If you are caring for or supporting someone with an eating disorder, self-care might not be the highest thing on your list of priorities. Or maybe you know it is important, but still struggle to put it into practise. The aim of this blog is to explain what self-care is, why self-care is important for both yourself and the person you are caring for/supporting, and to give you a few suggestions for practising self-care. So, let’s begin.
What is self-care?
The term ‘self-care’ refers to a whole range of things, and is different for everybody depending on their needs and interests. But broadly speaking, self-care refers to the things we personally do to look after our own physical, mental and emotional health. We’ll get into the details later, but self-care can be anything from going on a walk, to making sure that you are protecting your hours of sleep. You might have heard people talking about self-care as something selfish or self-centred. But writer, speaker and activist Parker Palmer describes it brilliantly. He says: “Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to the true self and give it the care that it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.” And that, as this blog will now go on to discuss, is part of the reason why self-care is so important, particularly when you are supporting or caring for others.
Why choose to practise self-care?
As mentioned above, practising self-care is important for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. But as someone caring for or supporting someone with an eating disorder, practising self-care is not only important for yourself, but also for the person you’re supporting. Here’s why:
It allows you to continue to support your loved one as best as you can
Self-care is something that each one of us needs, including, and perhaps especially, those who are caring for or supporting someone with an eating disorder. Supporting a loved one can be a challenging and demanding task which takes a lot of time and energy, so it’s really important that you recharge and continue to tend to your needs, both in terms of your physical health and your mental wellbeing. Doing this will also help you to continue supporting your loved one to the best of your ability.
It sets a good example to the person you are supporting
Carers often feel guilty about taking time out for themselves, or practising self-care. They are often bombarded with thoughts such as: ‘but they’re my priority now’, or ‘I don’t have time to think about myself right now’. These types of thoughts are natural reactions to a difficult situation. But let’s look at it in a different way. As we’ve already identified, all of us need to practise self-care. It benefits our physical health and mental wellbeing. So, by engaging in self-care you’re setting a good example to the person you are supporting, that it is important for us to care for ourselves and our bodies. In a way, by caring for your own mind and body, you are ‘practising what you preach’ when you then support your loved one to care for and look after their own mind and body.
How can I practise self-care?
We’ve now covered what self-care is and why it is important, but how do you actually go about it? The first step is to identify what self-care looks like for you personally, and to consider what your self-care needs are. It might be helpful to put aside a few minutes to consider what your needs both as a human being and as a carer are. This in itself is an act of self-care!
There are the basic self-care needs, such as making sure you are eating well and getting enough rest. Even this is easier said than done, especially if you find your thoughts and worries whizzing around your mind as soon as your head hits the pillow. A good sleep routine might help with this – check out this blog for some good suggestions. Sometimes these things take time to adjust to, so persevering with them is important.
Planning Self-Care Activities
Having some time out for yourself is also an essential element of self-care. When time feels tight, it might help to plan self-care activities into your diary. Even if to begin with, you can only spare 15 minutes a day (and perhaps an hour or two once or twice a week), blocking out some time for these activities can help you to get into the routine of daily self-care. Then, have a think about what activity you might like to do. Perhaps for the shorter moments of self-care, simply having a nice cup of tea, or listening to music, or reading a chapter of a book are good starting points. For longer activities, perhaps you are someone who enjoys going out in nature, or maybe you prefer to watch a film in front of the fire? These things might seem quite trivial compared to the many other things that come along with everyday life and the realities of caring for a loved one with an eating disorder, but they help to provide a balance and allow your body and mind to rest and to process. You may also consider planning one of these self-care activities with the person you are caring for to allow you to spend some time together away from the dining table or other stressful environments and situations.
These are just a few initial thoughts and suggestions, but everyone is different, and the trick is to find what works best for you. If you’re not used to practising self-care, a little bit of trial and error might be necessary!
Where can I find out more information?
Aside from the information above, there is a whole wealth of information online about self-care, and particularly self-care for carers. Here are just a few that you might like to explore:
Relaxation Tips for Anxiety
Breathe’s blog on relaxation tips for anxiety provides some great examples of self-care. The link can be found here.
Self-Care for Carers
Often, people do understand what self-care is and what they could do to take more care of themselves, but they experience certain barriers in being able to practise self-care. This blog guides you through identifying, changing, and overcoming some of those barriers
Self-Care Tips for Carers
This blog offers some basic tips for practising self-care when you are caring for or supporting someone. One of those includes speaking to your employer about your circumstances.
Support for Carers
The eating disorder charity Beat has some good information for carers on supporting their loved one. Check it out here.
A Final Note
Caring for or supporting someone with an eating disorder is a difficult task, and it’s important that you also feel supported along the journey. It may be that practising self-care is helpful for you, but it may also feel like you need some more support from other sources or organisations. It might be useful to speak to your GP, or to have a look online at what is available in your area. If you want to find out more about help and support for carers, have a look at the information on Breathe’s page about support for carers, and on S.E.E.D’s page for Carers and loved ones.
And one final note to say thank you for being there for your loved one during this challenging season.