UP FOR DISCUSSION … We talk a lot about self-care for caregivers, and how important self-care is to maintain a positive attitude about the many challenges of caregiving. I wonder … do we all define and practice self-care differently?

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I participated in three separate conversations this week about self-care, and I have reached the conclusion that, quite probably, there are multiple definitions for what it is – and, perhaps, even what it isn’t!  My first conversation was with an accomplished group of mental health professionals who are steeped in what is critical to all human beings related to processing emotions.  Their life’s work has been identifying behaviors that become important in order to stop small moments of trauma from becoming big, life-threatening problems.  The second discussion was with fellow caregivers who were tossing around the various ways there are to practice self-care and whether the activities really work to replenish the caregiver and give them respite from the storm.  Finally, late in the week I had an energized and thought-provoking conversation with a Life Coach and educator who has devoted her entire career to wellness counseling, especially as it relates to life changes and transitions for older Americans.  Her perspective is that self-care is individual in nature and is a broad term that needs to be further defined for each of us.

Google searches and dictionary definitions only prove the point.  The National Institute for Health’s Library of Medicine gives this working definition (abbreviation of lengthy quote is mine): “Self-care is the ability of individuals …. to prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness with or without the support of a health-care provider.”  Betterhealth.com simplifies it even more by suggesting that self-care is “any action that promotes your health and well-being”.  It goes on to list all sorts of activities beyond the obvious sleep, diet, and exercise, including those enjoyable things like hobbies that make us happy.  And finally, in my search I find on the website Everydayhealth.com the suggestion that “self-care does not mean the same thing for everyone.”  And that is because the practice of self-care can be used “just to maintain happiness day to day”.

You can find all sorts of posters documenting what self-care is too:  7 pillars, 8 types, the basics, three or ten examples, 40 ideas, graphics of what it looks like, checklists to practice it, etc.  The only language I see repeated in all these guides is a common purpose of “managing stress levels”, the need for constant “self-management”, and the almost off-handed suggestion that the practice of self-care must be “ritualistic” – that is, a planned weekly activity!

It was not until I got to ideas about why we don’t have a better understanding of self-care (or why we even need to be admonished to practice it), that I found the real reason caregivers have such a problem with this.  The cause of a lack of self-care is self-neglect.  And why do we get caught up in the cycle of self-neglect?  One answer across multiple sources: “Sacrificing yourself to serve others.”


     So here is my take-away from a lot of conversation around the topic and a better understanding that what works as self-care for me does not promise to work for you.  In order to minimize the impact of what is causing significant amounts of stress in our lives, we need to find those specific things that bring each of us moments of joy and happiness; and, on a frequent basis in a planned and intentional manner, practice them.  By sacrificing ourselves to care for others, we are also potentially limiting our ability to continue to provide that care because without self-care we may not be able to maintain our own health or cope with the stress in our caregiver lives.  I have never met a caregiver who would intentionally practice self-neglect.  I have met many who struggle with the practice of self-care!  Perhaps that might be because it is so difficult to define.



Up for Discussion:  What about you?  Do you know the specifics of what you can do on a frequent basis to relieve stress and nurture your good health and well-being?  What brings you joy and happiness and how do you plan for it on a regular basis?

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