The Thirsty Spirit of a Caregiver: Self-Care is Possible and Here’s How

full-cup-thirsty-spiritSelf-care, take care of yourself, self-care, self-care—okay, we get it. How many times can a caregiver hear this before s/he gets sick of the phrase? Self-care articles glance over the logistics (and financials) of respite care; repeat the same familiar directives (eat right, sleep right); or miss the point entirely. Walk a day in our shoes: see how easy it is to carve out time for ourselves, when our day is spent taking care of others. It’s no wonder many caregivers roll their eyes when the subject of self-care approaches.

So it’s with a considerable amount of sensitivity that I draw closer to this article’s focus: a book on self-care. Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit, written by Karen Horneffer-Ginter, doesn’t take time for granted. Nor does it make self-care out to be an easy practice:

The idea of self-care is so simple and basic yet it can be one of the most complicated journeys we embark on…. I don’t want to insult people by implying they don’t know the obvious fundamentals of caring for a human body (like proper eating, exercise, and rest). On the other hand, I don’t want to annoy them by suggesting these acts of self-care can easily fit into an already-busy life.

Making space for ourselves can feel like sticking a hefty hardcover on an overcrowded bookshelf. And the harder it is to do, the more you need it. Horneffer-Ginter understands space and time constraints firsthand so she knows how difficult it can be. But it’s still crucial to our health and happiness.

shutterstock_38541733We start slow. Literally. After a doctor’s appointment, try walking at half your normal speed back to the car. Of course there are places you need to be but maybe there’s one day you don’t. If we can “move slowly through the day life feels more magical.” We are hardwired to react to life quickly but if we give ourselves a moment’s pause before responding, our actions and words are more deliberate, less prone to mistakes.

For the caregiver that can’t get away, Horneffer-Ginter suggests several ways to take a break inside the home: Light a candle; let out a sigh; find a relaxing scent. Even though you won’t feel as nourished as a full night’s sleep, or an hour-long bath, you’re still taking a moment to yourself, building a space to release some of the stress that has been built up during the day. Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit invites the reader to envision how this lesson would take shape in his/her life with “Practice” guides at the end of each chapter. “Given the circumstances of your life, what activities would work best for you to take a break?”

And here’s where Horneffer-Ginter differs from the typical self-care advocate: she concedes that sometimes there are those unfortunate periods where it is genuinely impossible to take a break. Recognize those. “Otherwise, we may end up adding more tension to the situation by feeling bad or guilty that we aren’t taking care of ourselves…” In those times, we need the unshakable faith that we will be okay; we’re going to be okay.

Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit is filled with so many more precious and practical suggestions to more effectively take care of ourselves. It’s a message caregivers need to hear: it’s possible. Here’s how…

Written by Alexandra Axel
Alexandra Axel was the first founding staff member at The Caregiver Space. As a New York native, Allie grew up people-watching and story-collecting, eventually pursuing her undergraduate degree from The College of New Jersey in sociology and creative writing. At The Caregiver Space, she worked with social media, graphic design, blogging, and program development to brand and grow an online community composed of, and focused on, caregivers. From the seedlings of an idea to the thriving community that it is today, Allie was there from the beginning to support the evolution of The Caregiver Space. Allie enjoys writing poetry and short fiction, devouring books, biking, crafting, urban agriculture and imperfectly cooking. She currently resides in Brooklyn with her pup, Hen.

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