Self-care is exactly what it sounds like: caring for yourself. It sounds simple in theory, but in reality, sometimes caring for yourself is a very difficult endeavor. The people for whom practicing self-care may be most challenging may be caregivers. This could be individuals who have taken on a caregiving role (such as being a parent, being an adult child who is caring for an elderly parent, or being a professional caregiver). This also applies to natural caregivers: people who gravitate towards taking care of the people around them, and who feel more comfortable meeting the needs of others than their own.
People who naturally gravitate towards taking care of the people around them are often highly empathic and altruistic. Sometimes, these individuals learned to put others’ needs above their own in childhood, and some of those individuals may go on to become compulsive caregivers: people who help because they feel that it’s their only option, and that it’s their only way to contribute something of value to the world. Compulsive caregivers don’t always feel that their own needs are important. Someone who struggles with compulsive caregiving may feel motivated to help others mainly by guilt and shame.
For caregivers, it is easy to put themselves last, especially because it may seem noble (or even necessary). Unfortunately, this dynamic often inevitably leads to burn-out, leading caregivers to become depleted and not have anything left to give to others, much less themselves!
The first step in self-care for caregivers is to develop a strong sense of self-worth. Cultivating the belief that their own needs are important and worth their attention can be hard work, but it’s a necessary step in learning how to balance caring for others and caring for themselves. Caregivers ideally come to the understanding that putting themselves first isn’t selfish – it’s actually a way to protect their own ability to be a resource for others. When caregivers realize that their energy and time can be depleted, they can take measures to protect it, so that they can continue to care for others in a healthy way. They can begin this process by recognizing their own symptoms of stress and learning how to care for their own physical, emotional, and mental health!
Once caregivers work to recognize their own worth and start prioritizing their own needs, the most radical part of their journey may be starting to learn how to say no to others. Saying no to others’ requests for your time, energy, or emotional support will create space for saying yes to your own needs. This can feel really scary, especially for those who’ve felt that their only value comes from what they can offer other people. We might fear rejection or a strong emotional response from the other person when we say no. The good news is that, in many cases, your friends, family, or coworkers probably will take your “no” in stride. Getting to see that we’re still valued or loved even when we say no is possibly the most healing of all, and it can only happen when we start to have boundaries with others.