I love what I get to do at R&R. Helping contribute to their overall mission of enriching certain individuals’ lives results in a generally positive experience. When an individual feels better after we had played some puzzles together, I can’t help but feel the same! However, there’s only so much care and attention that one person can provide to another, and only so much of that care and attention that we can give to ourselves.
This morning, I found a blog by Tracy Maxfield called “Caring for the caregiver”, which encourages caregivers for those with dementia to keep doing what they’re doing as long as they are also taking care of themselves. Maxfield provided great tips based on her 35 years of experience in working with people with dementia, which likely some caregivers have not considered yet. Of all the tips that she provided, “You should take a break often” surprised me a little.
I’m not sure how others are, but I’m the type of person that finds it easier to give than receive. From my initial perspective, receiving had a slight connotation of selfishness that made it more difficult to do. But if you look up what “selfishness” means, it’s about being concerned exclusively with one’s own interests and desires. As caregivers, we are concerned for our overall health and well-being for the sake of having the capacity and endurance to care for someone else.
That doesn’t sound like selfishness to me.
That being said, when Kristin Neff, an associate professor in Human Development and Culture, talked about “The space between self-esteem and self compassion” in a TEDx Talk, she focused on self-compassion, which she defined as “a way of relating to ourselves kindly, embracing ourselves as we are, flaws and all”. I think that’s an important part of self-care.
Neff defined “self-compassion” using three components: Self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness means treating ourselves as we treat the people that we care about. Common humanity is related to how our overall imperfection (i.e. a part of what it means to be a human being) allows us to connect with other individuals. Mindfulness means being able to be fully aware and accepting of what we feel when we are suffering.
Self-compassion is related to the concept of the Mammalian Caregiving system, which Neff described as our bodies being “programmed to respond to warmth, gentle touch, and soft vocalizations”. Thus, when we practice self-compassion, Neff explained that research shows that our bodies reduce stress-related hormones (cortisol) and release “feel-good” hormones (oxytocin and opiates) to a point where we are in a good state of mind to work on tasks optimally.
Having only started at being a type of caregiver through weekly interactions with individuals with dementia, and already seeing the ups and downs that comes with caregiving, I can attest to the need for caregivers to practice self-care.
Moreover, I do think that sometimes, it’s easy to think that I’m practicing self-care while unknowingly having a lack of self-compassion. For instance, I might take the day off but feel guilty for sitting on the couch and watching TV, knowing that at the back of my mind, I have a list of things to do. Or go out with friends/family but silently criticizing myself for not getting things done as efficiently as I had initially wanted to.
Some of the things that I have learned during my practicum preparation course and my practicum term are that self-care involves forgiving yourself whenever things don’t go as planned, and knowing and accepting that you are perfectly imperfect (a.k.a. expressing self-compassion).
To all the caregivers out there, thank you for all that you do, and I hope that you’re taking care of yourself, too.
Neff, K. (2013, February 6). The space between self-esteem and self compassion: Kristin Neff at TEDxCentennialParkWomen. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/IvtZBUSplr4
Selfishness. (n.d.). In Dictionary.com. Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/selfishness
T Maxfield. (2017, February 25). Caring for the caregiver [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.castanet.net/news/Dementia-Aware/189935/Caring-for-the-caregiver