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self-care for caregivers

SANCTUARY self-care lying on grass

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence,” the writer Audre Lorde once said, “it is self-preservation.”

In the midst of busy lives and demanding relationships, self-care is hard to do.

If you are expending time and energy on your loved one and their addiction issues, you may be struggling to find time for yourself.

Think for a moment about the past week. How much time did you spend on caring for your loved one versus self-care? Were you able to maintain a sense of balance or were there moments when you felt angry, impatient, depleted, burned out, or even sick?

Author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg writes about the importance of self-care for caregivers in this blog post. As she explains, being mindful is essential when it comes to giving of our time and energy:

(Photo by mikeywally via Compfight)

It is essential for those in caregiving roles to cultivate self-compassion alongside compassion for others, to create an inner atmosphere of kindness, expansiveness, and awareness in which resilience can flourish. It’s unrealistic to think that anyone can endlessly overlook his or her own needs, and still have the energy and commitment to give fully to others. Even those in professional caregiving roles. Plus, when we are spread too thin, we typically feel a greater tendency to self-isolate rather than to connect. Compassionate caregiving depends on connection.

There is something about just ‘being with’ that is such a fundamental part of sustainable caregiving. Recognizing our fundamental inability to fix, and being able to simply make ourselves available, is something we can learn to do — and to be OK with — as a result of tapping into the power of self-compassion. Acceptance is the energetic opposite of aversion, anger, and fear. It is expansive and warm as opposed to restrictive, imploding, and frozen —, all qualities that we typically encounter when we fixate on the need to fix, to control.

It’s essential for caregivers to consider how they are approaching the art of giving, which is a process that mindfulness can help clarify. Pure generosity emerges when we give without the need for our offering to be received in a certain way. That’s why the best kind of generosity comes from inner abundance, rather than from feeling deficient and hollow, starved for validation.

Sure, there are plenty of people who feel love and compassion for others, but are not able to accept and give care and love to themselves. But this mode of being is just not sustainable. In this kind of situation, care and love cannot be freely given gifts but rather have lots of strings attached, paving the way for resentment and burnout.

Caregiving with resilience first depends on choosing to inhabit a world where we treat ourselves with love, where we know deeply and truly that compassion for ourselves is not weak or self-defeating or an excuse for surrender or passivity. Rather, it is a force that opens the door to a completely different way of relating to others and to our own experience so we constantly grow and change, and continue to serve.


Self-care can take many forms. It might include managing stress, eating healthy meals, getting regular exercise, spending time with a pet, visiting friends, reading quietly, walking, pursuing a hobby, or soaking in a bubble bath. These are actions you can take to show compassion for yourself.

But self-care can also involve your internal, mental state. Perhaps you need to be less critical of yourself. Are you beating yourself up for perceived mistakes or failures? What kinds of negative messages are running through your mind? Are you showing yourself the same compassion you show to others? Are you forgiving yourself and letting go or are you constantly chastising yourself?

Take a moment to close your eyes and listen to your body. How does it feel? At ease and relaxed? Or does your body feel tense and constricted? Where is that tension residing? In your neck or shoulders? In your hands or feet? Do you feel overwhelmed by emotion? What feelings are bubbling up as you scan your body? What thoughts are running through your head? Are you at ease or do you feel exhausted or tired of trying to fix things? Record the answers in your private journal.

Now think about self-care. Have you been taking enough time for yourself or is this an area that needs more attention? What does “self-care” mean to you? What specific activities relieve stress and make you feel more calm? Is your mind overwhelmed with negative self-talk? If so, how can you change those internal messages to be more compassionate and forgiving? Answer these questions in your private journal, then write a list of activities that nourish your body, mind, and spirit.

Choose at least one of these activities and add it to your calendar for the coming week. Even better, schedule one self-care activity per day. Consider roping off a specific time for yourself each day and sticking to it, as if it were a doctor’s appointment or a meeting. When you find yourself exasperated, angry, or depleted, return to your journal entry for ways to relieve stress and show compassion for yourself.



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