The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be stressful. We may feel like we have so much to do with work, travel, hosting guests, and finding the right gifts for the people we love. If you are a person with a disability, or if you are caring for a person with a disability, you may find that the stress is taking its toll on your mental and physical health.
Self-care is any activity that you do deliberately to take care of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Acts of self-care can include taking yourself to lunch or a massage, accepting or declining an invitation to a gathering, or saying “no” to a request that can be handled by someone else. By taking care of yourself, you will be better able to care for those around you.
Self-Care for Self-Advocates
For some people with disabilities, mindfulness can be a self-care strategy (PDF), according to the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Pathways to Positive Futures. Mindfulness meditation heightens awareness about one’s mental and physical experience, and that awareness can be channeled into identifying opportunities to reduce stress and care for the body and mind. Journaling is another way to be mindful of how you are feeling, and Journaling – A Wellness Tool from the Center for Health and Self-Directed Care can get you started. You may also consider reaching out to your community for advice and support. The National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities has articles packed with advice from parents with disabilities on where they can turn for help in their communities.
Self-care may include making time to exercise or to spend time with family. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability offers many articles and resources for individuals and caregivers, like this 35-minute inclusive yoga video. The RRTC on Community Living and Participation for People with Serious Mental Illness has several guides and tools to encourage physical activity and leisure and family time.
While self-care is much more than a bubble bath, a long soak can be an act of self-care. Spending some time taking care of your skin, hair, and other areas may be how you choose to show yourself some loving attention. AbleData offers examples of assistive technology that can help with grooming and caring for your physical appearance.
Self-Care for Caregivers
Research has shown that more than half of caregivers in the US provide 40 or more hours a week of care for a family member or friend with a disability, including aging parents and young children with disabilities. They often provide care on top of working full time. It can all take a toll, mentally and physically. The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Learning and Working During the Transition to Adulthood’s factsheet points out that For Families or Caregivers: Self-Care is Putting on YOUR Oxygen Mask First (PDF). “If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot help others. Being the caregiver for someone with a mental health challenge can be very difficult, but you must take a little time for yourself. Self-care can start with just 5 minutes a day!”
When one is in the middle of providing care, it may be challenging to stop and consider your own health. The Caregiver Self-Assessment Questionnaire, originally developed and tested by the American Medical Association, offers an online assessment for caregivers to help them make decisions about their own behavior and health risks. The Family Caregiver Alliance’s National Center on Caregiving offers many supports for families caring for a person who is aging or has a disability, such as this article Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers. The Department of Veterans Affairs Caregiver Support program has a Self-Care Assessment and Daily Attention Diary which includes a daily attention diary and a post-month self-care reflection. The diary offers an extensive list of signs and symptoms of caregiver stress, along with hundreds of suggestions for stress relief activities. Any caregiver can use the diary to track signs and symptoms of stress and address their self-care needs.
Respite care can be a self-care option for caregivers. Respite care programs provide a short-term relief for primary caregivers – an afternoon, a few days, or up to a week. Respite care can happen at home, in a respite facility, or in an adult day center. Contact a Center for Independent Living in your community or visit the Eldercare locator to find out about respite services in your community.
During this busy, stressful time of year, we hope you can give yourself the gift of self-care, in whatever form you need.