Last week, I had the honor of speaking about music for self-care at a Breakfast Club sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association’s Heart of America chapter. This group of caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s disease gathers monthly at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, to share a meal and provide support for each other in their caregiving journeys. Just from my one visit, it seemed like a very supportive community, where people could share their hardships and joys freely with others who understood. If you are in the Kansas City area, you can find more information here.I was there to share information about using music in caregiving, and especially about using music for self-care. We talked about choosing music for emotional and physical relaxation, exercising to music as a form of self-expression and stress relief, and how to practice techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation with music. After sharing all of this “how-to” information and including a couple of lovely experiences of music-assisted relaxation, though, I really think I left out a hugely important point:
If you are a caregiver, you understand that two things are pretty certain to be part of the caregiving experience:
- Lack of time.
Constant worry about your care recipient, sleepless nights, changing behaviors and shifting moods, lack of support from family and friends, scarce time to yourself – all of these and more can be part of life as a caregiver. All of these stressors build up over months and years of caregiving, to the point where your own physical and mental health can start to suffer. Self-care must become part of the plan.
Maybe you object to this notion of self-care. “Oh sure,” you might say, “this is stressful, but stress is just a part of life. I can handle it.” Or maybe it’s, “no one else understands how Mom likes her dinner (or her bath, or her clothes, etc.) I have to be the one to do it.” Or maybe, “we’ve been married 60 years. How can I leave him now?”
The thing is, eventually, if you don’t take care of yourself, you will not only not be able to care for your loved one, but you may end up needing a lot of help yourself. It may feel selfish in the short-term to go out for dinner or take a nap while someone else watches over your loved one for a while. It may even feel selfish to take 10 minutes listening to music and breathing when there is laundry to be done and appointments to be scheduled. This isn’t true.
If you are putting in a lot of time and energy into caring for a family member or friend, then you are a caregiver. You need to take care of yourself, too. You cannot carry the weight of the world on your shoulders indefinitely.
Make the time for self-care, so that you and your loved one can stay healthier and happier for as long as possible.
What are your best ways to care for yourself if you only have 10 minutes? What if you had an hour? A day? Please leave your comments below.