***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
When your loved one has a disability, you may be so focused on their mental health and wellbeing that you end up putting your own aside. You are just as much a priority as your family member with a disability.
It may take some gentle reminders to help redirect your attention to yourself and your own needs. Taking this step will be valuable towards ensuring you are caring for yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and in any other sphere that aligns with your intentions.
Name your emotions
With all the stressors and challenges you are going through, your emotions may be running high but you may not be fully aware of them with all of your responsibilities. Take a moment to check in with yourself and absorb what these emotions feel like in your mind and body.
Are your thoughts racing and focused on the future and uncertainties? That might signal you are feeling anxious. Do you find it hard to concentrate and have you noticed changes in your energy, mood, sleep, and motivation? That might be connected with a depressed mood. Are you feeling overwhelmed, overburdened, and overstretched? This suggests you could be experiencing a high level of stress and are starting to burn out.
Raising awareness of these kinds of emotions is the first step in recognizing what is bothering you before you begin trying to process and deal with it.
Reflect on past successes dealing with similar feelings
When you are going through a range of emotions that change day by day and hour by hour, you will have a sense of what helps you based on difficulties you dealt with in the past.
While you may be in a unique situation with your partner, family member, or child being diagnosed with a disability or chronic illness, you may have been in previous situations where you have felt similar kinds of emotions. Reflect on how you managed those feelings and what helped you cope, including journaling, meditation, exercise, speaking with a counselor, accessing a support group, or other strategies.
Problem solve to ensure your needs are met
Planning time for activities you love and figuring out how to go about this is crucial for being able to do them.
Are there care tasks that your loved one can handle on their own (e.g. feeding themselves) where you can set them up and then devote a bit of time toward a favorite activity of yours? If your loved one needs assistance with multiple care tasks, can those tasks be grouped so you have some free time at another point in the day? Or, if your loved one needs a great deal of assistance at all hours of the day, are there family members, friends, government home care, private care support workers, or other professional or personal supports who can tackle some of these tasks so you can get a short break?
If yes, what tasks are these personal or professional supports comfortable and capable of doing, which days of the week, and times, how often are they open to help, and is there any training or guidance they need before they start assisting you?
Asking yourself questions such as these, planning out a schedule, and communicating with your loved one and the important supports around you can go a long way toward ensuring your partner, family member, or child is well cared for while you care for you. This is easier said than done, however, the intent is to consider how and when you are going to focus on your needs and who can help you achieve this goal.
Do activities you enjoy as often as you can
What soothes and calms you?
Do you enjoy exercise (walking, yoga, weights, running, stretching, martial arts)? What about art (drawing, coloring, painting, writing)? How about music (dance, pop, r&b, classical, rock, or other types of styles)? Perhaps you are a movie critic and like to immerse yourself in a movie genre you love. Or maybe you are a great cook and there are some favorite meals or desserts you like to make or new recipes you have an interest in trying out. If you have a green thumb, what types of plants, flowers, or herbs do you have growing in your home or garden that you enjoy tending to? Does a simple cup of herbal tea and looking out the window feel relaxing to you?
You don’t have to do everything all at once. Carve little amounts of time where you can focus on anything — even one thing — that fuels your soul, mind, and body.
See yourself as a priority
It can be extremely difficult for a caregiver to put themselves first. Recognize the challenge and move ahead with doing what you can to support the concept of you recognizing, valuing, and appreciating your importance.
To be able to fully care for and support someone else, you need to make sure you are taking care of yourself, too.
Take care of your health and well being
By making your wellness a priority, you are protecting yourself from burnout. Have regular appointments with your doctors, specialists, and professional service providers. Follow their recommendations to maintain optimal health and wellbeing. Explore other ways to stay healthy and try to put them into practice.
Explore peer supports
You may also decide that you want to explore peer mentorship from a charity organization that focuses on the specific disability or illness affecting your loved one. Peer mentorship often extends mentorship to the person with a disability as well as their caregivers. Peer mentorship for caregivers can be offered by other carers who are well along in their journey supporting a loved one with a disability. They can share their insights, strategies, and outcomes with you in a more open, personal way that differs from a professional relationship. Connecting with others who are going through similar life experiences can make a world of difference in helping you cope with the issues and stressors you manage daily.
Know you are not alone
If you need help exploring caregiver resources related to your loved one’s disability, feel free to contact the Ontario Caregiver Organization via their website: https://ontariocaregiver.ca/.
At the end of the day, you are doing the best you can to support your partner, child, or family member. You need to look out for yourself as well. Other people surround you who are present and ready to help you in any way they can within their skills and abilities. Lean on them when you need to so you can keep yourself afloat while you maintain your very appreciated caregiving responsibilities.
Wishing you well on your mental health journey.
Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT
Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist
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