Caregivers Need a Break, Some “Me Time”

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I’ve been thinking a lot about “me time” lately, definitely wanting more of it and trying to figure out how to get it, without a whole lot of luck.

It finally dawned on me that at least one of the reasons I was having so much difficulty was because I really wasn’t clear in my own mind about what I really meant by “me time,” what specifically I wanted it to do for me, and how much of it I needed at any particular time.

I am certainly not alone in wanting more time for myself. Every survey that asks family caregivers what they want or need shows it is high on their list. What we each do with time we designate for ourselves is likely to be as different as we all are as human beings, but that we need it is without question.

Positive & Fulfilling

Respite and “time for myself” are invariably linked in the survey data. We don’t get enough respite, and we don’t have enough time for ourselves.

If we had more time, we’d get more respite. But is it the same thing? Is “a usually short/ temporary interval of rest or relief,” a common definition of respite, the same thing as time for myself? I don’t believe it is.

Look at these definitions of respite:

  • A reprieve or period of delay, as when there is a temporary suspension of punishment
  • Relief from something that is uncomfortable, painful or otherwise negative

These are pretty dark words, and they are about stopping or putting off something that is unpleasant or not wanted for a time. Me time isn’t about the absence of something difficult or unpleasant; it is about doing something we perceive as positive and fulfilling.

I don’t know how respite got to be the term adopted by advocates for family caregivers, but now that I know the negative connotations it can have, I for one am going to try not using it anymore. Me time for me isn’t about relief, but rather it is about relaxation, stress reduction, and, definitely, rejuvenation.

The Right Direction

I turned to the Internet to try and actually find a definition for me time. I typed into Google, “time for me.”

The first thing that popped up was a link to the song “Me, Myself, and Time” by Demi Lovato. It’s about having faith in yourself, even through dark times. The lyrics talk about understanding that having a positive attitude can eventually make the difference between winning and losing.

It was definitely in the right direction. Believing in yourself is a critical factor in making caregiving easier, and, in fact, it is the first of National Family Caregivers Association’s four core messages: Believe in Yourself, Protect Your Health, Reach Out for Help and Speak Up for Your Rights. But it didn’t quite describe my sense of me time.

The next link led me to the website for the Time for Me Day Spa in upstate New York. As I read through the copy, I was hooked. Yes, I thought, this is a good description of what me time should be about.

Its [the spa’s] inviting atmosphere welcomes visitors to leave their stress at the door.

Leaving my stress at the door, whisking my worries away, and rejuvenating my life—yes, that’s what I want to have happen during me time, and of course I’d love to go to a spa on a regular basis, but that isn’t realistic. If I am to have me time more than once or twice a year, I’d need to find other much less expensive ways of achieving feelings of peace, relaxation, and rejuvenation.

How We Define It

Does me time have to be quiet and peaceful? For me, yes; but what about someone who is a skier or a runner?

Although I see me time as being alone, for others it might be doing something with friends. Me time is how we define it.

Me time is how we define it.

The words I’ve now come up with to define me time include:

  • A quiet place
  • Doing something I really enjoy
  • Doing something that fulfills me
  • Doing something that makes me happy, makes me smile
  • Not feeling pressure of any sort
  • Being aware that whatever it is, is me time
  • Doing something/being somewhere that takes me out of caregiving mentally and emotionally
  • Being alone
  • Being physically away from caregiving—out of the house
  • Being physically away from caregiving—unreachable, as on vacation

With this list in front of me, I began to think specifically about what constitutes my me time. I was surprised with what I came up with. I realized that cooking often falls under the umbrella.

For my friend Jan, that would never be the case. She hates cooking, but I enjoy it, and if it’s not about getting dinner on the table quickly and I can listen to music while I am cooking, it does fulfill and rejuvenate me.

Taking a bubble bath, reading in a quiet part of the house where I feel as if I am alone and won’t be disturbed, taking a nap—these are small mealtime activities.

When I go on a business trip, part of the time comprises me time, when I am alone in my hotel room and the work effort is complete. Being on a solo vacation or with a friend even for just a weekend, is me time.

So what is me time? I’ve decided it can be little snippets of time or extended ones, as long as what I am doing reduces stress, makes me feel good and is rejuvenating.

Now that I finished this article, I am going to take a short walk. Right now that will definitely qualify as me time.

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Reprinted with permission from Suzanne Mintz, Co-founder and CEO Emeritus, National Family Caregivers Association. Originally appeared in June 2012 issue of PN Magazine.