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Caregiver Support – Put Your Oxygen Masks On

Published on Dec 2, 2019 at 7:39 pm in Brain Injury.

If you have ever been on a plane, you have undoubtedly heard the safety drill before you take off on a trip. One part of this demonstration always stands out to me – the bit about the oxygen masks. What do they tell you to do? Put your mask on first and then help others. Why? Because if you pass out you can not help others around you. If you think about their instructions it makes sense. That safety procedure applies to you, the primary caregivers of traumatic brain and spinal cord injury victims. The people you care for need you, and let’s be honest– some days it can be exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally. So, how do you keep yourself from crashing, caregiver burnout and frustration outbursts? You must learn to take a moment for you and hiding under covers or in the shower doesn’t count. I will warn you; self-care is not as easy as it sounds.

Self-Care. We hear about this all over the place. TV, social media, apps, there is even a magazine devoted to this. Sounds great – right?  But realistically some of the ideas are just not going to happen in our world. How do we recharge our battery so that we can get ready for the next day without breaking the bank, finding 3 hours of time each day, feeling guilty or selfish?

When you figure out how to incorporate self-care into your daily routine it will become simple and natural. Self-care helps build resilience to stressors that are out of your control and ultimately make you better at providing care and support to the people that need you the most. Let’s look at some ways to get started taking care of you.

What is Self-Care?

Some people say that it is something you do for you, and only you, that helps you with mind -mental, body -physical, spirit -emotional, social, and whole-body wellbeing. Or, simply taking care of your basic needs which is no different than the care you are providing to others. How to incorporate self-care in your day is unique to you.

What Self-Care is Not

Self-Care is not adding more to your to do list, taking on more responsibility, and it is not a last resort when you feel that you are “done”. It is also not spa treatments, luxurious hotel stays, or a shopping extravaganza – although who are we kidding, that would be nice – but that is not self care.

Things You Can Do for Yourself

There are many things you can do for yourself, but it is important to make sure that the plan is realistic and sustainable. That is the tricky part. Here are a few things to consider.

Understand your limits – Are you doing more than you can or should? Can you eliminate anything from your to do list? Are you adding things that you just can’t or shouldn’t? BC lotteries have the best slogan. “Know your limits. Play within it”. This applies to everything in life. I have made it my motto. Find one that works for you and use it.

Don’t be a victim of helium-arm-itis. This is a condition that occurs when you hear the words, can anyone, does anyone, or will anyone and your arm floats up and then next thing you know you are the new board member in charge of the bake sale. Don’t feel bad that you can’t help or volunteer – it’s ok to say no.

Get some sleep. This is so hard, especially for all the mental list makers out there. Those of you who lay in bed, the house is dark, still, and quiet, your eyes are heavy, your body exhausted, and no one needs you. You lay down and it happens. The minute your head hits the pillow your brain wakes up and it begins the marathon of making to do lists, reminding you what you forgot, how to fix things, what is going to happen next Christmas, and when does the car need an oil change? How do you shut it off? Try starting a bedtime routine. Here are a few ideas.

  • Turn off the electronics one hour before you go to bed
  • Make a cup of tea (non caffeinated)
  • Read a book– an actual paper book one that you can hold, smell, and feel
  • Snuggle under a blanket
  • Take a hot bath
  • Listen to music
  • Guided meditation

Find something calming and still. A glass of wine is nice, but alcohol does not promote healthy sleep, so it is not a great choice. Oh, and that book you choose, make sure it is not one about helping others, medical breakthroughs or care planning. This is a book of your choice something light, entertaining, adventurous, funny, or romantic. The object is to settle your brain and get a break from reality not to fire it up thinking about something.

Fuel your body. Take time to make proper meals, you know the kind your Grandma made. Meat, potato, and vegetables. Avoid processed, fatty, salty, and quick meals (which is tough to do). A meal plan can help with this. Make a triple batch of dinner and freeze two meals for a later time. (Label and date them, unless you like playing the mystery dinner game). There are many different websites that can help with meal planning, prep and storage. This may be something that you could do with a group of friends. (Great social activity and qualifies as self care.)

Breathe. Take a moment here and there to just catch your breath and actually breathe. Most smart phones or fitness watches have guided meditations that can help you get started with this process. Sit down and just taking deep breaths for a few minutes can give you a great boost of oxygen, bring stress down to a manageable level, and help you refocus. The bathroom is a great place to sneak this in- shhhh, that’s our secret.

Move. Take a quick walk. Again, many smart devices have alerts that you can program to remind you to stretch your legs. A quick walk around the block is best but not always realistic. (Don’t get a dog thinking that will motivate you to walk. Refer to the know your limits section). If you are at home, go up and down the stairs a few times. Use the laundry cycle to your advantage. It takes about 45 minutes for a load in the washer, when the buzzer reminds you it’s time to switch, that is a good time to stop what you’re doing and move.

Don’t forget who you are. It is easy to get lost in your responsibilities but remembering what makes you unique is important. Take a moment to think about what you used to enjoy and revisit those old hobbies. Dig out the paint, cookbook, running shoes, skates (and helmet), or music books (and earplugs) and rediscover those things again – or try something new! Look at your local community center for classes that are not a big-time commitment. Often a financial commitment is enough of an incentive to make sure you don’t skip a class or make an excuse why you can’t go. Classes that are one day or just a few sessions make scheduling easier and less of “another responsibility” than an intended break.

Socialize. So hard especially when you are a caregiver to someone with complex needs. Find a day of the week, or month that you can plan to have someone take over for you. Get out of the house. It is easy to become socially isolated and this is unhealthy. We are social creatures, and social interaction fuels the soul. Find a friend or invite someone new to do something fun with. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant – go for coffee, a walk, or a class together. Share your pain, stress, frustration and then a laugh or two. A friend and I decided to invent a night just for us. We called it, Wine-ing Women Wednesday. We would go to someone’s house; we were not allowed to clean or prep or add any stress to the event, it was an, “as is”, occasion. We would sit and share a glass of wine taking turns venting about everything and offer advice or just listen. Then we would share a second glass and it was time to laugh, dream, relax and just enjoy our friendship. We would leave feeling renewed and just as happy as a week at an all-inclusive. (Well that might be a bit of a stretch, but the point is, we felt really good) Find something that works for you.

Get Professional Help. Ask your family doctor for local resources. There are many support groups out there. Here are a few organizations that offer service and that Wishart Brain and Spine Law proudly support and recognize. Take a moment to explore them online.

Finally, take a moment to reflect and praise yourself for what you did well, dust yourself off for the things that didn’t go well, celebrate the good things in your life, and take time to love yourself.

So, put your oxygen mask on. You’re now ready to give100% of yourself and provide the best care you can. YOU GOT THIS!

The team at Wishart Brain and Spine Law always put our clients first and we are part of their support group. We help you access the best care available, help you find support, help you navigate the paperwork, and expertly handle your legal process so you can focus on what is important – you, your family and recovery. Contact us if you think your personal injury, or accident needs legal representation. The first consultation is always free.

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