If you’ve ever provided support to a loved one when they are facing a crisis, challenge, traumatic or stressful event, you may know how difficult it can be to maintain your own emotional and mental health. While practicing self-care is important throughout life’s ups and downs, it is especially critical to remember when supporting others during trying times. Whether you’re helping a friend that has a mental health challenge or a family member dealing with substance misuse, maintaining your self-care plan is critical to ensuring your own well-being.
Although it may feel selfish or unwarranted to practice personal self-care when a loved one is facing challenges, continuing to make healthy choices will ultimately empower you to better take care of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights how “taking care of your emotional health during an emergency will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family. Self-care during an emergency will help your long-term healing.”
Here are a few ways to take care of yourself when supporting a loved one:
Stay close to your routine. A huge part of self-care is upholding your established schedule. Eat healthy meals, get a full night of sleep and exercise when you can. Focus on work and family responsibilities one task at a time.
Talk to someone. Tap in to your own support network to bolster your relationship health when caring for others. The National Institutes of Health’s Social Wellness Toolkit offers several checklists for how to build healthy relationships during a variety of situations. Even though it may feel uncomfortable to ask for individual help while a loved one is suffering, connecting with others will help you stay sharp and motivated. Go to an event, plan a meal with family or video chat with a trusted friend.
Let go of negative feelings. If you have decision-making power over a loved one’s stressful or traumatic event, try to reframe your perspective in order to protect your own health. Caregiver.org recommends the following: “Change ‘guilt’ to ‘regret.’ Guilt is you did something wrong, regret is that you are in a difficult situation and sometimes you have to make difficult decisions, but they are not wrong.” Keep in mind that the situation your loved one is facing is likely temporary. Recognizing small positive moments on a daily basis is also a useful way to maintain a more resilient headspace.
Dedicate time for full-on relaxation. You may feel like you’re tied to your phone to receive the latest updates on a loved one’s challenges, and then even more pressure to relay updates to other friends and family. When your attention is concentrated on helping someone, allot specific times to put your digital devices away and redirect your focus to a relaxing activity. Consider journaling, reading a book, going for a walk or doing a deep breathing exercise to meditate. Try to take regular breaks, even if you can only step away for a few minutes throughout the day to unwind.
Remove the noise. Consider unsubscribing to social media and email push notifications on your phone to allow for more space to focus on what’s most important to you. Reducing the amount of unnecessary information coming your way may help you feel less overwhelmed when supporting a loved one. Pressing pause on your news consumption can also help you clear your mind. Minimize any pressure you may be putting on yourself to respond quickly to outside friends and family that may not know what you or your loved one is going through.
Understand your role and its limits. As much as you may think that caring for or supporting your loved one falls on your shoulders, you will likely not be able to solve all of their problems alone. Ask people in your support network for resources and nudge your loved one to consider meeting with a mental health specialist or other relevant medical provider if necessary. Setting boundaries and fostering a wider support network for your friend or family member will help you navigate your own stressors and create some potentially needed distance from the situation.
For a full list of mental health hotlines and other resources, review this article.