1. Remember the “oxygen mask” principle on airlines: Secure your own oxygen mask first, then secure the mask of your traveling companion. You have to save yourself before you can save anyone else! Do whatever it takes to bring your “best self” to your care recipient.
2. Practice basic stress management strategies such as exercise, healthy eating, relaxed breathing, muscle relaxation, daydreaming. Treat yourself with compassion, kindness, and patience.
3. Stay connected – to yourself, friends, new allies and friends, whatever gives you meaning and pleasure.
4. Empower yourself- Learn what you need to know at a pace that’s reasonable for you. Mastery is power! Appreciate your steps towards coping, and celebrate your triumphs. Respect your limits and limitations. Living within your limits whenever possible is also empowering.
5. Stay closely attuned to your own physical and emotional health. Keep up health maintenance appointments, recognize how stress and change affect your body and mind. Get the care and resources that you deserve.
6. Express yourself in familiar and new ways. New emotions and experiences call for new outlets. Tell your story, rewrite the narrative, try art, movement, music. Writing in a journal provides the opportunity to explore, reflect, tell the truth, follow a process, get to know and heal yourself.
7. Respite is a right and necessity for every caregiver. We need respite breaks to replenish and recommit to our responsibilities. Become a master at the 1 hour respite, and schedule it often. Advocate for yourself, and make arrangements for longer breaks and vacations. Spend time doing whatever replenishes you. Let yourself have fun!
8. Design a stabilizing routine or daily ritual. This can give you an anchor or an oasis when life is moving too fast.
9. Hold on to your sense of humor! A good laugh can release tension, put things in better perspective, and connect people.
10. Don’t fall into the “take care of yourself” trap! The need for assistance does not diminish with time, and involving other supports and resources does not mean you are “not coping”, or “haven’t gotten used to it.” “Take care of yourself” does not have to mean “Take care by yourself.”