By Amanda Huffman
Because caregivers are taking care of others needs it can be easy to miss that they, in turn, must take care of their own. Focusing on yourself can often feel selfish and like it’s just another task on your to-do list, instead of something you really need as a caregiver. But it can actually help you become a better caregiver to the ones you are charged with caring for.
Feeling overwhelmed with worry or feeling helpless are signs that you should focus a bit more on yourself. Other things to watch for are sleeping too much or not enough —or if you are gaining or losing weight dramatically. These could be signs that you are not taking proper care of yourself. Moreover, the challenges that come with taking care of others can make it hard to find time to recognize where you’re falling short on fulfilling your own needs, but it is so important.
Here are 5 easy ideas that can help you get on the right path to self-care. And don’t forget that this list is just to get the ideas flowing. Finding the right thing that brings you joy may not be on the list and that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great way to take care of you. Only you can know what is the best option for you.
Spend Time Alone or Out with Friends in a Social Setting
Depending on your personality, spending time alone or in a social setting can be exactly what you need to be re-energized. For me, an introvert, curling up with a good book and not having to be around anyone so I can just get caught up in a story makes me feel so much better. For others with a more extroverted nature, being alone can feel draining, while spending time with friends or even in a place where there are people to interact with can be energizing. Learn about your personality and what you need.
Find Someone You Can Talk to or Use Meditation to Take a Break
Sometimes the weight of taking care of someone can be overwhelming. It can feel like each day will bring new, never-ending challenges. Taking time to meditate and empty your mind of thoughts — even for only one minute — can be healing. Guided meditation apps are available, but you can also set a timer for 1, 2, 5, or more minutes to just focus on your breath or use a phrase to help guide your mind.
Also, talking to someone can be very beneficial. If you have a friend willing to listen without giving advice, utilize that space. But also consider the option of talking to a therapist. Cohen Veterans Network offers free counseling services for Post 9/11 Veterans and families. This is one free option that can give you a space to talk to someone without having to worry about judgment, and it can also give you tools that will help you in your journey to self-care.
Keep Up Your Good Basic Hygiene Habits
Do you know how impactful a shower is? You might think taking a shower only has benefits for your physical health, but actually it can have an effect on your mental health. Washing away the dirt and grime of the day in a shower can also help you wash away the day’s troubles, even if it is just a temporary break. Keeping up your physical health can also make you feel better as a person overall. Feeling gross and dirty can just make the basic tasks of life harder. So make sure you prioritize your basic hygiene. Ensure you take time to brush your teeth, comb your hair and take showers regularly. And if there is anything else you can do for your physical health that makes you feel better, do it. Prioritize things that make you feel good.
Focus on Eating Health Foods
Besides taking care of your basic hygiene, you also need to look at what you are putting into your body. Sometimes when you are taking care of someone else it can be hard to find time to eat healthy food — and it may be easier to grab something quick. But eating healthy foods affects your mental health, too. Certain foods can make you feel sluggish and not your best. So watch what you eat and, if you start to feel yucky, look at what you are eating to see if there are easy ways you can improve your meals. Just starting with eating fruits and veggies instead of packaged snacks is an easy way to make a small change with a big impact on your diet.
And lastly, continuing with the physical health theme, take time to exercise — from intense workouts to something easier like taking a walk or bike riding around the block. Finding something that gets your body moving can help create endorphins that help you feel better. Working out is also a great way to relieve stress. Getting out your energy in a workout can lead you to just feel better even if your situation hasn’t changed.
Finding the thing that gives you the most joy when it comes to taking care of you is so important. Getting a massage may be relaxing to one person but not something another person would enjoy. Other people want to be in a crowded place interacting with people while some find an experience like this draining. When you are focusing on self-care, pay attention to what gives you energy. Don’t get caught up in stereotypes of what good self-care means. Find the best path for you. And use the signs mentioned at the beginning to help guide you as regular check in. And if you notice any of those signs, find a way to focus on yourself for a while.
Amanda is a military veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer who served on a combat deployment with the Army in Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career in the Space Force. Amanda is the host of the Women of the Military podcast. There she shares the stories of women who have served or are serving in the military. The podcast has over 200 episodes and over 100K downloads. Amanda is also an author and has published two books. Her first book, Women of the Military tells the stories of 28 military women who served in the military. Her second book, A Girl’s Guide to Military Service, is the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Winner for Teen Non Fiction. It is a guide for high school girls considering military service to help them build a strong foundation for their future career. She also works as a freelance writer and has been featured in a number of military publications including The War Horse, Military.com, Military Families Magazine, Clearance Jobs, Military Spouse Magazine, and more.