Family and friends can make all the difference when sickness strikes. While the friend or family member who is sick requires intensive care and attention, those doing the caring can quickly become overwhelmed and often need support too.
We asked a doula, a cancer survivor, a spiritual sage, a celeb therapist, a nutritionist and an herbalist to share their best tips for those caught in the fray of caring for someone they love…
Cancer Survivor + Holistic Nutritionist
Get Rest. A good night’s sleep, green juice, and time for yourself every day will make all the difference.
Come Prepared. I pack the following essentials if I’m away from home: travel probiotic (like Dr. Ohhira’s Professional Strength), superfood greens powder that I can mix with water (like Amazing Grass Green Superfood blend), Ultima Replenisher Hydrating Packets to mix with water for electrolytes and support minerals, Tosi Bars as a healthy snack that don’t need refrigeration.
Plan Ahead. If I’m in a hospital or similar facility, I know the food is going to be awful, so I plan ahead. This part is crucial. Find a local smoothie or juice shop and have them make you green juice (most markets will have a juice option to build your own if needed). Pick up healthy grab-n-go options to bring with you. Most hospitals have microwaves to reheat soups or broths as well if you need to. You can make the soup in batches and freeze for later. Pro-tip: Bring a blanket or dress in layers — am I the only one who finds the hospital to be freezing cold and quite a shock to the system?
Support The Nervous System. Care giving is exhausting and the stress of it all can make it difficult to actually wind down and sleep at the end of the day. I pack essentials to support my central nervous system in keeping calm. I use:
+ Flower Essence Remedies Vervain to help me switch off and relax.
+ Flower Essence Services Yarrow Environmental Solutions — its purpose is to strengthen and protect against toxic environmental influences, geopathic stress and other hazards of technology-dominated modern life. (This includes the disruptive effects of radiation on human energy fields from x-rays, televisions, computer monitors, electromagnetic fields or airplane flights.)
+ Kikoko Sympa-Tea to relieve stress and anxiety (check your state for legality as these contain CBD and small amounts of THC).
Be honest. You don’t need to shoulder the burden of the truth to protect others. If you’re caretaking and reporting back to the family or have loved ones checking in, be honest about how you’re feeling and how your loved one is doing. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Take a minimum of thirty minutes a day for you time.
Try these: reflexology massage (if you can get away), a 30-minute nap, walk around the block, uninterrupted reading time, phone call with a friend (this will also boost your oxytocin), short meditation session (the Unplug App has great meditations online or on your phone), yoga class or even a few poses and stretches, tune into a Ted talk or favorite podcast.
Have A sense of humor. Laughter can be like exercise as it also has been shown to boost immunity and reduce stress response. Some studies show humor to raise levels of infection-fighting antibodies and to help reduce pain and promote sleep. Laughter relaxes me and is probably the best coping mechanism I know. I try to encourage humor for all parties involved.
Integrative Medicine Practitioner
While we take care of our loved ones, it’s important for us to stay in the positive and protect ourselves from hospital viruses and bacteria. Adding meditation, breathing exercises and prayers (depending on your beliefs) to your repertoire is essential. Here are some tips to make sure you take care of you:
Eat Well. Eat anti-inflammatory, healthy foods — no junk, no sugar, and no dairy. Bring a water bottle with lemon zest/lemons. For a snack, have some goat milk yogurt with honey.
Boost Immunity. Prepare some fresh grapefruit juice, which is full of vitamin C, and add oregano oil drops. Take 1000mg of Vitamin C twice a day.
Relax Your Muscles. Take an Epsom salt bath with one cup of baking soda and half a cup of hydrogen peroxide. Stay in the bath for 25-30 minutes and make sure you rinse off thoroughly.
Drink Tea. Drink tea with fresh thyme.
Take Supplements. Take a 750 mg (cocumin) organic Tumeric tablet daily.
Wear A Mask. Don’t forget to wear a mask when walking around the hospital, (if permitted) and take off your shoes when you get home.
Don’t Forget To Relax. Book yourself a reflexology or acupuncture session.
Energy Alchemist + Founder of 7om
My most favorite go-to tips for self-care when caring for others:
Utilize Essential Oils. There is a reason everyone knows that lavender oil is the go-to oil for self-care and relaxation. It’s kinda like the rose quartz of essential oils (usually the first foray into the power of essential oils). Even in the 80s, everyone knew that lavender was the way to find calm. But there’s a difference between knowing something and actually using it — and this is one of those things. It’s scientifically proven to release and help you snooze, but as with all these things, when you are panicked and desperate you are the scientific study and it proves itself.
Get yourself a lavender essential oil, put a few drops on your pillow at night and on the inside of your wrists during the day — you will breathe more easily during times that you are most likely forgetting to breathe. Seriously, I took it for my mom who was in hospital last week (when I received the invitation to contribute to this list, ironically) and we were both so grateful for that little bottle of zzzzz. Even the nurses came in and took a deep breath with a sigh and thanked us for bringing it. Every hospital room should have an essential oil diffuser.
Be Selective With Media. Switch off social media and the TV, close your eyes, lay down and allow yourself to receive the gifts of reiki-infuse healing music. Turning on a piece of reiki-infused healing music is a remarkable experience for me and my mom at the height of some anxiety. This is what we had playing in the room. It’s free. It’s on YouTube. It runs for an hour and ten minutes and whether or not you believe it shifts the energy of your physical being (I absolutely do believe it — and I’m an energy alchemist so I have a pretty good read on the energetics of our bodies and psyches!).
It helps transport you to another world and calms your nervous system and your racing mind. It has a transcendent feel to it, like the angelic realms are visiting, which can often be a huge visceral support in the midst of health crisis and situations where our faith in the universe often comes into question. There aren’t any words, and there’s something about it that reminds me of the freedom in the movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which is a gorgeous movie if you haven’t seen it! And a perfect reminder of the bigger pictures at play when we are lost in our own suffering and the suffering of those we adore.
Talk To Your Inner Child. Finally, and this is the one to earmark if you only take one thing away from this list — it’s probably not what you’re expecting, but here it is: Talk to your inner child for a minute or so every single day. Yup. I tell people this in sessions every single day. This is the actual secret to real self-care in anxious times. Holding space for your own inner child and listening to them will completely shift your external experience. When someone you love is ill, particularly a parent or someone who has historically looked after you, rest assured that the inner child in your psyche is freaking out. They are scared, they are worried that they aren’t doing “it” well enough, they’re worried that no one is going to look after them, their nervous system is on high alert and they are in fight or flight much of the time.
There is an alchemic secret that all the traditions know — when you hold space for the younger version of you that still lives inside of your psyche and is responsible for so many of your reactions, everything calms a little. When you allow them to just speak to you, whatever they want to say, it doesn’t matter what they say really and it’s not about having a prefect answer or even an answer at all. It is simply about letting them know that you care about them, that you are not going to forget about them and that they are not going to get lost in the midst.
When you are in a hospital room and feeling antsy, go to the bathroom, or even better walk outside, and ask your little one: What are you feeling? They most likely will scream at you, they might tell you to fuck off, they might cry…but just listen to them. Allow them space to share what they are feeling. I am scared, they may say. What if they die? What if I’m not doing this right? What if I lose myself in the logistics of taking care of someone else? What if no-one takes care of me? What if, what if, what if. And though whatever you hear them saying inside your own brain, just see yourself holding them. Hold them in your arms. Let them cry. Don’t be scared that this is one more person for you to take care of — because when you take care of this person in this way, you will find yourself a little less brittle, a little more able to flow and a little more connected to the breath that has disappeared for days.
Seriously, try it for two minutes a day even. Driving in the car. On the subway. Brushing your teeth. Sitting on the toilet. You don’t even need to get your journal out but you can if you want to write it out. Energy needs to move. When it is witnessed, it’s transforms and transmutes a lot of itself and when it has nowhere to go. When your inner child feels unheard, it will stage a revolution and rebellion and cause you untold misery. Don’t be mad at them. It’s the greatest gift and opportunity of your lifetime — it’s the true secret to everything.
Two minutes a day. And more if you feel the need. Be gentle with yourself. Life is hard. Caretaking is hard. You are doing amazing. That is all your little one wants to hear. And it will change your life.
Herbalist + Founder of Anima Mundi
Remember, the act of giving to others has to come from a place of abundance within ourselves. Being in a state of deficiency, worry, negativity and/or sadness depletes the reservoirs from where you channel healing energy to a loved one. To access this energy use herbs (like pau d arco) to give you strength and protection, and nettle for when you feel worn out and drained. It also provides you with energy to reset, helping you learn new ways to handle situations. Take a mineralizing flower bath with citrus peel to reflect and reset. Use sacred scents (like palo santo or black copal) to pray and seal the energy at the end of the day.
Erica Chidi Cohen:
Doula + Founder of Loom
My best advice for those taking care of those who caretake? Return the favor, make them meals, send them massage gift cards, create a space for them to vent and recharge. Caretaking is easier when you as a caretaker have space to release.
Nourish Your Body. As a caretaker, it’s important to take care of yourself because when you feel balanced spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically you’re able to give so much more to others. As a first step, I recommend that you focus on how you’re nourishing your body. Eat a nutrient-rich diet made from real whole foods and include protein, healthy fat and fiber-rich carbs at every meal. Avoid processed, packaged and artificial foods or foods made from refined carbs and sugar.
Try EFT Taping. Eating this way will not only make you feel amazing from the inside out, it will enable you to have the sustained energy that you need to care for others. I also recommend that you start using EFT tapping daily — it’s a powerful tool that you can use to help cope with the stress you may be experiencing as a caretaker (you can read more about the practice here and learn how to do the practice here).
Holistic Healer + Founder of Take Care Body Mind
Self-care and the health of ones relationship to their internal landscape, informs the scope of service and care for others.
Triple Check Everything. I participate in the holidays the same way I would approach travel during mercury retrograde – by triple checking the details of plans and agreements and prioritizing a focus on clarity in communication. This can mitigate misunderstandings during a time when people tend to be distracted, over-stimulated and romanticized.
Set Intentions. I clarify the intent that I am choosing each day, so it may better guide and organize my actions, awareness and communication.
Ask For Support. Obligation is an influence highlighted in the field during holidays and it can be amplified during time with family. I call on the support of embodiment practice to best gage what my authentic choices are, and the most loving way to communicate them in a given scenario. This supports contemporary boundaries that best serve an emerging situation rather than falling back on agreements made though time – subject to past trauma or influenced by fear and resentment.
Communicate Clearly. In essence, self-care is freedom to choose and true love arises in presence – without obligation or manipulation. Communication can be a key with which to unlock the bondage of illusion, to explore liberation, creativity and welcome the miracles and mysteries of divine Love!