When you care about someone suffering from a mood disorder, taking care of yourself can be a challenge. Mood disorders run the gamut from chronic and clinical depression to panic disorders and bi-polar disorder. In addition to the stress of caregiving, family members have the added burden of trying to avoid the “isolation factor” that is part and parcel of mental illness. It’s easy to see how this happens. Caregivers often believe nobody knows how they feel, or that things will never be ok. When you do have a morsel of time, you may be too down, feeling unsocial, or even tired to do the things you enjoy. Sometimes your only option is socializing with the person affected by mental illness, which may not feel like much of a restful break.
Since mental illnesses can be both chronic and cyclical, it is important to be kind to yourself, as the caring family member. You need to take care of yourself whenever you can and even when you think you can’t. “Self Care” is a phrase widely used by personal coaches and refers to making your “self” a priority. This can be challenging for caregivers who frequently forget themselves as they care for the ill person. Caregivers especially, are prone to thinking of themselves as an afterthought, if at all. Neglecting yourself over time can result in adverse consequences for the caregiver, including burnout, shame, increased stress, and anger, in addition to isolation. Being proactive to stay well is important to avoiding these consequences even if the ways you express self care are minimal, they add up to keep you healthy. Here are some ideas for taking time for your “self,” to help you to keep on giving.
1. Relax your mind. For some people it might be listening to music, or meditation tapes, or even a book on tape (since reading may take more energy). You may want to purchase an MP3 player that allows you to manage the tapes easier than a traditional CD player. One of my favorite artists is Steve Halpern, who puts together some wonderfully relaxing music that I play from my computer or pop into the MP3 or CD player.
2. Relax your body. Massage, Reiki, facials, hot stone treatments — the list is endless. Try something new or go with an old stand-by. While it may feel like an overwhelming task, the simple act of making and keeping the appointment that’s just about you will be well worth the effort. If you just can’t get away, simple breathing meditations can bring deep relaxation.
3. Seek out your (funniest) friends. Staying connected with your friends is an essential form of self care. Friends know and accept our story, and help keep us going. Even if it is an effort, stay in touch and make plans to get together. It’s no secret how therapeutic laughing can be — so pick your funniest friends!! Or take in a funny movie together even if you don’t feel like laughing. It can be wonderfully contagious.
4. Take a break. “Respite” from your caregiving commitment can be invaluable. If money is not an extreme issue, try to get away even if only for a complete day and overnight retreat. There are wonderful places that cater to soulful restoration. Go alone or with a friend. But make a plan and stick by it. If you’re like me, once I “get there” I’m so glad I did!