Dear Caregiver

Gentle advice for those who support in times of chronic illness.

Dear caregiver, I see you.

I admire you, and am inspired by you. And today, I offer some gentle advice to you on the assumption that you may sometimes get caught up in the burden of your obligations, and forget just how truly valuable you are as an individual — to those you care for, those you love and the wider community.

Dear caregiver, the following suggestions are not to be taken as added responsibility to your already-busy lives. They are not things you “should” be doing, nor do they reflect any means by which you are to be judged (by yourself or others). They are offered on the understanding that you are a unique and precious human being; that you deserve as much care, nurturing and support as those that are ailing, injured or in need.

So, whilst you are undertaking your incredible role as carer-of-another, I hope that you can also take some simple steps to ensure that YOU — the soul behind the caregiver label — are nourished and nurtured in the following ways:

Gift yourself a healthy lifestyle

Ensuring that you have a healthy approach to your body is not about blame or shame; it is simply about gifting yourself the necessary elements of physical well-being. Nourish your body with fresh, unprocessed foods and gentle exercise as often as you can. Whenever possible, get to bed on time and take short afternoon naps to enhance your energy levels. It’s ok to ignore your to-do list to ensure you are eating, resting and sleeping well.

When you have a healthy body, you have more energy and vitality and you will be better equipped to shoulder the responsibility of caring for another.

Take time each day for meditation or reflection

Over the past few centuries, many of our habits and teachings have been based on the assumption that we are soul-less, biological machines. Because of this, many have come to divorce themselves from their inner well of strength and wisdom; they have come to believe that if they solve the issues “out there” it will automatically increase their inner well-being. But this is simply not so.

Taking time to nourish you inner self has very real benefits. Multiple studies that show meditation can reduce stress, increase mental clarity and, importantly, intensify your ability to feel empathy and compassion toward others. Spending a few minutes each day in meditation, reflection or mindfulness is a powerful tool of self-care; one which will better prepare you for the trials of daily care-giving and help you reconnect with your incredible well of inner resilience.

Acknowledge your needs

As a caregiver, there is an automatic and intense focus on the person needing your care; your compassion, support, concern and attention is directed outward, toward ‘the other’. This is a natural and necessary reaction. However, it is vital for your long-term well-being that you also acknowledge you have needs of your own, and to take real steps to ensure they are met. In particular, it is wise to ask yourself:

· What support do I want at this time, and from whom?

· What regrets can I avoid by taking action now?

· What expectations are being placed on me that I resent/reject?

Once you have openly recognised and accepted your personal needs, it is important to …

Learn the art of “no” and “help”

We are taught that being of service to others is the highest form of living and, indeed, this is true in many ways. However, what we are not taught is that it is not necessary to continually give to others if it is to the detriment of your own, precious needs. It is not only acceptable to say “no” when your resources are low — it is imperative. Likewise, asking for help does not indicate a weakness in you — it highlights that you have the strength to show vulnerability and speak up for your authentic needs.

Allow “no” and “help” to find a permanent home in vocabulary and don’t limit or judge the frequency with which you have to use them.

Replace guilt with gratitude

If you are dealing with the daily responsibilities of a loved one’s pain, illness or trauma, it is natural to experience feelings of resentment or anger. This, in turn, can stimulate feelings of shame and guilt. These are normal reactions to your situation and it is unwise to block or ignore these feelings. Instead, try as often as possible to counteract your moments of guilt, shame or resentment with feelings of sincere gratitude.

Studies have shown that gratitude is a powerful tool for greater well-being; it can enhance psychological and physical health, stimulate better sleep and even help you form better friendships! So, take time each day to be consciously grateful. This does not mean mindlessly reciting the things you think you “should be” grateful for; it’s about acknowledging the things — however trivial — for which you can give thanks (chocolate, sunshine, a soft pillow or the fact you had extra patience today!). Be sincere and feel the flow of gratitude throughout your body. A journal such as the 5 Minute Journal may help you realize how much gratitude you can discover in your daily life.

Kim Forrester is an award-winning author, educator and intuitive consultant with over 15 years’ experience as a professional intuitive and spiritual teacher. She combines cutting edge science with traditional spirituality to offer the latest understandings of psi, consciousness and holistic well being.