Caretakers. You know who you are. You’re the one everyone calls when things start hitting the fan. You eat an entire meal with friends without a mention of what’s happening in your life (and you didn’t even notice). Your list of priorities for the week clocks YOU in around #15. Sound familiar?
In the current day of self care and the “do you” mentality there’s strong pressure to push off other people’s issues until we are well cared for. While the benefits of taking care of yourself are huge, it can be harder than it sounds. The thought of “doing you” while you sense someone else is in need is like stabbing your hand with a fork. So, how do you tend to yourself if this is your personality? Here’s a few tips to get you started:
1. Spot Early Signs You Need Something
It’s completely normal that self care might not enter your mind until it’s an emergency. By emergency I mean that Friday breakdown when your eye is twitching and you’re screaming for wine or worse, you’re constantly sick. To catch it sooner, notice subtle times you could use a little care. *Warning* They may be difficult to notice because you’re used to ignoring them. Some examples include being impatient with perfectly nice people, drinking more coffee to “get through the day”, or skipping workouts. Catalogue these things and tune in. The sooner you can jump in, the more you can avoid self destruction.
2. Define What “Self Care” Means to You
Caretakers often fall into the “making other people happy makes me happy” rut, which may be true, but leads to less information on what brings them joy as an individual. Start taking note of what looks appealing to you, activities other people seem to enjoy, and which moments in your day lift your mood. It’s perfectly normal if these things are uncomfortable at first. For example, if you try taking a bubble bath, you may get in and immediately ask yourself, “What am I supposed to DO in here?”. Don’t worry! Self care grows on you when you train yourself to disengage and make it your own. Start small and work your way up.
3. Make Helping a Choice
Many caretakers are naturally empathetic. You instinctually sense when someone needs something and run to their aid. It’s an amazing gift, but also leads to burnout or resentment. Slow the process down by noticing when your “empathy bell” is going off and make a deliberate decision whether or not to help. Part of the reason we help is it’s incredibly challenging to feel someone else’s discomfort without acting. If you improve your ability to do this and actively choose when to jump in, you’ll increase your sense of control and power. It will also help you find times to say “no” and create time for yourself.
It may seem like a basic and instinctual skill to care for yourself, but many have zero experience at this. You probably became a caretaker at an earlier time in your life because it was natural, useful, or necessary. Take this on like a new skill to be mastered and you’ll really start to see a difference.
If you liked this article, please share it with your caretaker friends (or those who don’t seem to get you!). I’d love to hear which parts rang true in the comments below.
Dr. Lynn Saladino
I am a New Yorker, clinical psychologist, fitness and food lover, and a woman on a quest to bring a REAL spin to finding balance in hectic lives. As my clients know, there isn't much I won't say whether it be about sex, relationships, crappy bosses, or "strange" eating habits. The goal of this blog is to share what I'm learning from my unique position as a helper of hundreds to bring you a greater sense of understanding and calm.
Lynn Saladino, Psy.D.
Dr. Lynn Psychology, PLLC
Clinical Psychologist and Coach
All rights reserved © 2015 Dr. Lynn Saladino
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