Adopting a self-care mindset

When you feel like there is never time for yourself

happy senior in bed
You can take care of others better when you take care of yourself.

Some of the most common advice you hear when taking care of a family member or friend is to practice “self-care.”

But when you’re busy and overwhelmed by the needs of the person you’re caring for, self-care can seem like a luxury you don’t have the time or money for — or it can feel like one more thing to add to your ever-growing to-do list.

Instead of thinking about self-care as something separate and distinct, it may be helpful to think of self-care as a lens for decision-making.

The choices and decisions we make impact our health, well-being and ability to take care of others.

Every day we make thousands of decisions, whether or not we’re really conscious of them. Making decisions about self-care doesn’t have to be another thing added to your to-do list.

It can be a simple awareness of the daily choices we make and being mindful of the impact of those choices. It can be embracing and celebrating what you already do: Perhaps you start the day with a healthy breakfast — or maybe it’s that you make sure to get a good night’s sleep or make an effort to move your body a little extra throughout the day.

Building community

Self-care can be self-defined by what’s most important to you.

You don’t have to go it alone. Sometimes knowing where to start can be the hardest step.

In the Living Well With Chronic Conditions community class organized by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, self-management of health is the focus.

Individuals in similar situations come together to focus on managing their health and well-being. This class builds on health and wellness practices you may already be doing — or have been trying to do. Being in a group, sharing ideas, thoughts, struggles and triumphs with others, however, can be empowering and can hold you accountable to your goals through ups and downs.

Another way to get support for making decisions with self-care in mind is through Powerful Tools for Caregivers, a six-week class offered throughout Minnesota that helps people manage caregiving strategies that work for them.

While building a supportive network with other caregivers, participants develop tools to reduce stress, communicate needs to family members (and the rest of the care team), work through difficult feelings and make tough caregiving decisions.

Action planning

If self-care seems to be a practice that’s eluded you so far, there are tools available. The classes mentioned above discuss a variety of tools, including the process of “action planning.”

This strategic process helps people break down an overall goal into smaller, more manageable steps.

Step one is to identify the first step you need to take to achieve a goal. The second part is to answer these questions:

What do I want to do?

When can I expect to complete this action? Will it be in one day, one week? (Giving yourself a specific time-line can help tremendously.)

Who can I share this with? Who will help hold me accountable to my plan?

What are some of the barriers that might come up that will prevent me from completing this action? If those do come up, what I can do to overcome those? Sometimes using new tools takes practice, so be kind to yourself, knowing that you’re trying something new.

Whatever you do to practice self-care is important for you and the person you’re caring for day after day. To learn more about these classes, call the Wilder Foundation’s CARE line at 651-280-2273 to find a class happening in your area.

Melissa Gibbs and Parichay Rudina work at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation’s Community Services for Aging. Learn more by visiting the Caregiving Resource Center program page.