It's time to reflect on how we both serve others and how we serve ourselves. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as "the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider." If you're reading this, you've likely been a caregiver in some capacity, and for several years. And it's also likely that you put others' needs above your own - and what a sacrificial blessing to the well-being of those around you and those you support. September is Self-Care Awareness Month and reminds us to see the status of our glass, full, half-empty, or dry as a dessert - yikes! When depleted mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, we cannot give our truest and loving selves to others. Nor can we socially interact with others pleasantly or peaceably. Self-care isn't underrated. It's essential. Truthfully, most caregivers don't take the time to think about what they want or what brings them joy. Let alone reflect, what would fill their cup? Ask, where could I go, who could I see, or what could I do that I've been putting off and would benefit from or enjoy? If you're a caregiver, please take a moment and think about yourself for just a few minutes. (I know it's hard - but you can do it! I believe in you.)
Has anyone asked you what YOU want or need?
Well, I am now, and below, you'll find some self-reflective questions to get you started.
What helps you unwind from a difficult day?
Would you benefit from having some alone time?
Is your home a mess and in desperate need of decluttering?
How long has it been since you talked to your friend from college?
What coping mechanisms could you switch out with healthier versions? (Read a book vs. binge-watch Netflix, maybe?)
When did you last have a date night with your spouse or significant other?
What do I want to do that I never get to?
Will taking a nature trail walk help calm your mind?
Does getting your nails done make you feel more confident?
Would attending a concert with a group of friends give you joy?
Have you considered meeting for coffee with a new acquaintance?
Do you enjoy escaping in a book on your front porch or a cozy couch?
Could you benefit from a relaxing massage to ease your muscle tension?
Would playing a board game with your family stimulate laughter and fun?
I'm sure you could think of at least one thing you could do, see and experience to get rejuvenated. The National Institute of Mental Health provides practical tips to help you maintain and thrive in self-care. These are great resources, but thinking about what would best serve you is the key to serving your core needs. You know yourself better than anyone else.
Since we are a social service to our community, we partner with many dedicated and passionate caregivers and team members. Restoring Hope, LLC is partly comprised of Host Home and Relief Home Providers who make room in their home to accommodate the needs of another at its most basic core. They additionally work with individuals regarding the details within their (Individual Support Plan) ISP, which helps reinforce safety and uphold the individual's rights. Then you compound upon those responsibilities, challenging behaviors, medical needs, natural families, etc. The more people involved, the more complicated things can become. It only reinforces the importance of taking time for yourself and residing in a peaceful, as humanly possible state when interacting, caring for, and strategizing with others, so when dealing with others, you're in a stable frame of mind and temperament.
Our Direct Support Professionals, whether in the Medical ISL, Traditional ISL, or Excel Day Program setting, additionally have complex layers of care and service they practice daily. Individuals may have severe health issues, and the physical and mental stress of keeping someone alive is a heady weight. In keeping a calm presence and demeanor, DSPs help regulate the atmosphere and reduce stress and angst with and among individuals in their care. We celebrated DSP Recognition Week on our Facebook last week and know full well what a toll that role can take on them. But you'll notice a trend if you go back and read some of their quotes. They feel blessed and have great joy and purpose in caring for others, so we celebrate and cherish all they do because it is not an easy job. If we can keep their spirits high, they can serve and love others with an even greater capacity. But at the end of the day, we each are responsible for keeping our self-care in check to serve better those impacted by our roles in the workplace, our homes, and our communities. Find open positions, here!
Let's break down these words: social and service. According to Webster, one definition describes social as; relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society. And service, the contribution to the welfare of others. Society demands social interaction and a community willing to contribute to the welfare of those within it. What we do at Restoring Hope is highly relational and requires a daily practice of putting the needs of others first. Everyone touched by the spear of our influence is either impacted or responsible for our communication styles and how we conduct business to restore hope one relationship at a time. Whether we are Business Office personnel who process caregivers' pay and help them to remain in compliance with the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Relief Homes doing relief for a Host Home and ensuring the individual ISP is adhered to, all the way to our Medical ISL DSPs, executing in due process of cleaning medical equipment and documentation, our responsibilities to others are significant. And our efficacy drastically increases when we're healthy in mind, body, and spirit. When we're not looking after ourselves, things get out of balance.
So, what do you do if you're reaching burnout?
Here are a few suggestions:
• If you're a Host Home, speak with your Program Manager to work on your relief schedule to give yourself a much-needed break and your client (s) a break from you.
• Read a book about the topics you're dealing with or struggling with. You'll likely find the resource you're looking for.
• Call a fellow caregiver, team member, or leader for emotional support and advice.
• Take a walk outside to clear your head.
• Try different breathing exercises. You can find several options online to choose from.
• Contact a licensed therapist to discuss how you're handling your stress.
• If applicable, express your needs and ask for more help from those living in your home. Sometimes, others are innocently oblivious to your stress. Don't take it personally; you'll only know their willingness to help once you ask.
Being called to serve others in some capacity is a huge responsibility. So, I remind you, reader, to begin practicing the airplane oxygen mask protocol. We've all heard it, "Put your oxygen mask on first," before helping others. Why is this an essential rule for ensuring survival? Because if you run out of oxygen yourself, you can't help anyone else with their oxygen mask. You've likely thought; I don't have the time. You may think - they are, or this situation is more important than my needs or desires. And in all reality, in the moment, that may be true. Some individuals or family members we care for have life-threatening and round-the-clock medical and physical needs. However, you are important, your needs are essential, and you are worthy. Give yourself a break, refuel, unwind, and get back at it! We all were created to serve, and bless you for it. If you haven't been, it's time to take care of yourself.
We're so honored to be able to offer Out-of-Home and In-Home Respite services to natural families caring for family members with developmental and intellectual disabilities desperately needing a break. We felt the pressure of providing this underserved service for quite some time. Respite is offered on a short-term care basis because of the absence or need for relief of those persons who typically provide care for the individual. Perhaps you're a married couple who work outside of the home yet spend every other moment of your time looking after your non-verbal and autistic adult daughter, and you could use a weekend to relax and recharge your marriage. That's where we come in, and this is an excellent tool for self-care for even those living in natural families and not already part of the Restoring Hope agency.
Although this blog is mainly about self-care, it's also wise to consider others and help them in their self-care journey. You may have bolstered a better gauging system for when you've had your fill or reached your capacity and need to step away, take a break, and regroup. If you're here, you deserve a pat on the back because you're ahead of the pack. Use those skills and help others recognize them. You could give them a gift card for a massage or buy them their favorite coffee and hand it to them with a handwritten note admiring them for all they do and reminding them they should take time for themself. Gratitude is one of the easiest ways to destress and create joy - plus, it can be free, depending on how expressed. Internal gratitude is an instrumental tool in self-care. Many studies show that having and expressing gratitude helps reduce stress, lessens aggression, and improves sleep. We also know that stress causes many adverse health issues. Yes, reducing stress is easier said than done, but just as we restore hope one relationship at a time, you can and will improve your self-care by practicing one healthy choice at a time, and gratitude is a cost-effective approach.
Here are some tips:
• Begin your morning by writing down three things you're grateful for on a notepad or the notes section on your phone.
• When you're stressed, in your mind, come up with ten things you're grateful for. Your issue may still exist, but I promise you will feel more positive and light-hearted when you're done.
• When you lay your head on your pillow at night, think about five things you're grateful for that happened, perhaps that didn't happen, or that you had that day. (Food, shelter, safety, a running vehicle, a bed to sleep in, money to pay your bills, running water, electricity, family that loves you, friends that care about you, etc.)
• Share one thing you're grateful for with a colleague or friend they've done for you. Gratitude goes a long way and invites others to give even more when you express your appreciation for them. Making an extra effort to verbalize your thanks to those whose love languages are words of affirmation is particularly effective. Some may appreciate gifts of gratitude, while others would enjoy an experience with you, and there may be some that a hug means the world. It's a powerful tool when we harness and put it to use!
When you give self-care the time and consideration it deserves, I hope you can help others. Sometimes, we need someone to help us recognize that we have too much on our plate, and it's an excellent time to take a step back and take a break. Or that what we're doing is worthy of praise and celebration every once in a while. Did someone say a five-day vacation cabin in the woods or a beachfront condo with white sand and crystal blue waters? Count me in! Take care of yourself because you care for others, and they need you happy and well.
Find even more self-care tips here!
Until next time, practice self-care. You'll thank yourself later!