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For Caregivers: 4 Tips for Dealing with Guilt Over Taking “Me” Time

Whenever she talks about self-care for caregivers, Amy Silbaugh likes to use what she calls “the airplane analogy:” In the event of an emergency during a flight, oxygen masks fall from the aircraft’s ceiling.

“You have to put on your own (oxygen) mask before you can help anyone else put on theirs,” said Silbaugh, manager of clinical development for Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio. “Caregivers have to take care of themselves first or they will not be able to take care of others.”

Even with that logic and the constant reminders from healthcare professionals that they must get breaks to preserve their own health, caregivers still often struggle with guilt when they take time for themselves.

“You are going to have guilt,” Silbaugh said. “It is normal. It is a sign that you are taking your role seriously. But you have to let that guilt go.”

Silbaugh said one of the best ways to do that is to seek out others in the same situation.

“Anytime you can talk with someone who is going through the same thing you are, it really helps,” she said. “Talking and commiserating with someone who understands can help you get perspective on the situation.”

The Mayo Clinic offers four suggestions for caregivers struggling with guilt:

  • Identify your feelings. Sometimes, caregivers may not even realize that the negative feelings they’re having are based in guilt. Understanding the origins of these emotions is the first step toward dealing with them.
  • Talk with others who can relate. Sharing experiences with those who understand what you are feeling actually results in a physical response – turning off damaging stress hormones and activating healing relaxation hormones – that makes you feel better.
  • Change the conversation you’re having with yourself. Stop making comments that begin with “I should have” or “I could have” and replace them with those that begin with “I did” and “I do.” Remind yourself that you’ve done your best and have acted with love.
  • Focus on what taking time for yourself will do for your loved one. A refreshed, rested and happy caregiver is better at meeting the needs of others than one who is tired, grumpy and unwell.

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