Self-care is essential to keeping life in balance, right? Practicing self-care means keeping all plates spinning, right? If all plates are spinning, we must be doing everything right.

Not necessarily, and self-care shouldn’t be one of those plates. Self-care is so important, it needs its own venue.

My lesson of the importance of self-care came in the form of a caregiver role.

When I moved to Delaware to take care of a family member a couple of years ago, I felt confident my decision was a good fit. I could do anything for two weeks. I canceled a speaking engagement. Booked my flight. Said goodbye to my husband and family and off I flew from Maine to Delaware.

Two weeks turned into months. My heart knew I had done the right thing, but unbeknownst to me, taking its toll was the stress of responsibility for everything; having no time to myself; missing all that was familiar back home and feeling alienated.

When I came home to Maine after Betty passed, I vividly remember sitting in the car one day with my husband. He stared at me in disbelief (read “who are you? and what have you done with my wife?”) as with seemingly no provocation, I released pent-up stress. I left nothing unturned that I felt hadn’t in some way intentionally harmed me. At the end of my tirade, I was horrified. I had no idea where all of that anger had originated.

Days later, I stood in front of my refrigerator and spontaneously started crying as I opened its door. I was dismayed that I couldn’t remember which drawer was the cheese drawer. At that moment I panicked, feeling as though while in Delaware, I had obliterated my own life. Another latent effect of not practicing self-care.

Since that time, I’ve developed “The Integrity Principle of Self-Care Applied to Caregiving.” As caregivers, we are often in conflict with “what we wish to do” vs “what we must do”.

“The Integrity Principle of Self-Care” is a combination of intention, word, and action. When these thoughts harmonize, we create a sense of self-worth which raises our self-esteem and confidence. We move through life aware of self and without feeling the pressure to live up to other people’s expectations. We give ourselves permission to make decisions that are in line with who we want to be and what we want to do in life. We are empowered to choose according to our life mission. 

Ask yourself these questions. What is your intention and are you being true to your authentic self? Will your word withstand the pressure? Is your decision being made in line with your passion and mission? Answering these truthfully will allow the feeling of peace, strength, and empowerment. Isn’t that feeling what self-care looks to achieve?

When we apply the integrity principle to self-care, we honor and respect ourselves. We empower ourselves, knowing that whether the answer is “yes” or “no” we have made the best choice.

Now back to my caregiving role in Delaware. Most of the time I reminded myself I had made the right choice to go to Delaware and that kept me peaceful, confident and forward thinking. What I too often didn’t remember was that I also had to take care of myself. I should have applied the same reasoning for my own self-care choices I subconsciously applied to taking care of Betty. The less self-care, the more I was stressed and it became a vicious cycle. Remembering this one component would have kept me balanced. Stress managed.  I would have lessened my chance of breaking down once I got home.

The key to this approach is making each response with love and kindness. With each victory, the process becomes more comfortable.

What else happens? We have less fear tackling anything in life. We are strong. We draw other people near who also honor and respect themselves and move through decisions confidently and fearlessly.

Finally, when the time comes when we think we’ve made a poor choice,  practice self-care again by remembering to offer grace.