How To Help Others While Maintaining Your Own Care

We all want to be a positive influence on the lives of others, particularly those people we love and care about the most. When someone is in need, it's a human instinct to want to help them. Giving your time, money, energy, and efforts to other people to make their lives better is an excellent way to be philanthropic and caring. It can even help you grow as you expand your own kindness and compassion towards others. Unfortunately, giving your resources to others can also be a very easy way to deplete yourself. It's easy to fall into the trap of giving more than you have. And that means you may ultimately find yourself without enough of your own resources to maintain your own physical and mental wellness.

Cleveland Clinic describes the premise of caregiver burnout (otherwise known as caregiver fatigue). This is what happens when a person who cares for another gets to a point where they begin to feel depleted — physically, mentally, and emotionally. Many people who experience caregiver fatigue take care of an elderly family member, a loved one, or a child. But caregiver burnout extends to any person who cares for another. That includes those who give their free time to a friend who regularly needs to vent about their issues, a neighbor who asks for too many favors, or any other situation involving one person giving a resource of theirs to another. Maintaining your own care while caring for others is imperative. 

Understand why your own needs matter

When someone else is dependent on you for their well-being, it can feel like you never have a moment for yourself, because you're constantly con meeting the other person's needs. However you care for others, one truth is universal: your needs are equally, if not more, important. Akin to putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others when you're on a plane, you can't care for someone else if your own energy tank is running on empty. According to Cleveland Clinic, there's evidence to back up that caregiver fatigue and burnout can lead to negative effects on health. These include increased stress, anxiety, and risk of developing depression.

Tiny Buddha reveals that we often put ourselves and our own needs last because we confuse self-care with being selfish, which is absolutely not the case! The more you practice self-care, mindfulness, and stress reduction techniques, the more resilience you'll build when it comes to handling difficult situations and helping others through their own trying times. Sometimes, people confuse helping others with feeling responsible for rescuing them from a bad situation or ailment. This is particularly applicable for people with codependent tendencies. Knowing how to set healthy boundaries is the best way to care for yourself and the other person. 

Go for daily walks

One of the healthiest ways, both physically and mentally, to keep your wits about you is to get outside every single day. If you're able to do so, going for a daily walk of at least half an hour can do wonders for reducing stress, boosting mood, and helping you become rejuvenated with fresh air (literally!) — as reported by the National Institute of Mental Health

A change of scenery can help you refresh and give you a different perspective. Spending time in nature can help you care for your mental health, which encompasses your social interactions, psychological clarity, and emotional well-being. Going deeper, caring for your mental wellness is critically important. This dimension of well-being influences the way you feel, act, respond to others, and relate to the world around you. If you find that you're falling into a slump of any kind, try going outside to breathe in fresh air. It's even better if you can find a spot to be in nature.

Exercise is one of the easiest and quickest ways to boost your mood. The effects of getting outside for 30 minutes each day can be positively enhanced by coupling it with mindfulness practices such as meditation, reports Harvard Business Review. Journaling can be another effective tool for processing how you feel, as well as a method for tracking how you feel from day to day. Always consult with a licensed mental health professional if you feel like you need extra support.  

Speak positive words aloud

Taking care of yourself while you're helping someone else doesn't have to be elaborate or time-consuming. In fact, there's a surprisingly simple technique that can help you maintain your own wellness — whether you're a regular caregiver or you're helping a friend through a difficult situation (like a stressful move or a tumultuous breakup). Even if you aren't currently a caregiver, this technique can boost your well-being. 

So what's the secret? Affirmation. Saying positive words out loud allows multiple senses to engage in the positive thought process, says Harvard Business Review. When you're in stressful situations (which can occur if you take on secondhand stress from the person you're helping), focusing on positive moments, experiences, and small wins can have big results in helping you keep your spirits up. Admittedly, most people neither give nor hear compliments or positive sentiments about themselves on a regular basis — especially within their own internal dialogues. Take this as your sign to turn that pattern around. Begin overflowing your internal voice with positive self-compliments, including identifying your positive attributes and the kindness you exhibit by helping others.

To practice this technique, you can stand in front of a mirror. Speak aloud your compliments and praise for yourself. Or you can choose to incorporate positive words alongside your solo self-care practices each day. This approach can be combined with meditation, journaling, daily exercise, or time spent outside if you're crunched for time (as many caregivers tend to be).

Create space for spiritual health

Taking ownership of your own space, including the headspace in your mind for positive thoughts (and the space in your schedule you reserve for self-care experiences), is a vital part of maintaining your own well-being. This is especially true if you're trying to help another person. Another form of space you should prioritize creating for yourself is the space for spiritual health. Give yourself the time to seek and practice any spiritual undertakings that fuel your energy and fill your soul with contentment. 

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine determined that spiritual health involves both unique individual fulfillment through self-actualization and seeking transcendence by acting outside of oneself. The latter portion is fulfilled by helping other people. Individual fulfillment is obtained through connection with oneself and the natural world in ways that create a sense of purpose that inspires and drives you. Both components must be balanced. 

Find small ways to seek actualization and transcendence. Ways to maintain spiritual health while helping someone else include watching the sunrise or sunset, writing in a gratitude journal to emphasize positive influences and experiences in your life, and reading books that promote self-growth. You might also try practicing mindfulness through mindful eating, meditation, and intentional filtering of news and social media which induce negative feelings, per National Caregivers Library. Spiritual health is about connecting with yourself and the world around you in ways that make you feel grounded and fulfilled.

Have your own support network

As you help others, remember that reciprocity is what helps humankind succeed. The person you're helping may not be able to return your supportive and caring efforts, which is totally okay. The reciprocity of care doesn't have to come from the person you're assisting. But even if it doesn't, underline in your mind that you are also worthy of being cared for. You deserve to have people in your life who help you when you're in need. 

Building a strong support network that you can lean on is exceptionally important, even if you aren't a current caregiver. Merely having social connections can boost your mood and reduce both stress and the risk of depression, states Cleveland Clinic. Being able to reach out to friends, family members, neighbors, or even co-workers you trust can help relieve the emotional burden you may be carrying while you help others. So can meeting with a therapist or counselor. There are also a multitude of online support groups and virtual communities you can join, as well as groups designed specifically for caregivers. Look in your local area for in-person support groups or communities to connect with people who are familiar with the experience of caregiving. 

Having friends you can reach out to for positive compliments, recognition of your efforts, and uplifting encouragement can have significant benefits on your mental wellness, says Tiny Buddha. You might even consider establishing regular times for sharing compliments within your social group or workplace.