"We were so overwhelmed with trying to deal with this, I'd rather have been with my child.'' This is what the parent of a recent patient at the UNC Eating Disorder Program said when talking about caregivers taking time to care for themselves. As clinicians and treatment team members, we often forget to remind the caregivers of our patients that it is okay (and even good) if they take a little time for themselves. As Director of the UNC Eating Disorders Program, I know parents and other caregivers do a lot to help their child recover from mental and physical illness, and that over time, it takes a toll on their stress levels and physical health.
A recent study conducted with parents of UNC patients asked these caregivers what they saw as the main barriers to self-care. Most commonly, parents said that they feel selfish about taking time to care for themselves unless treatment team members tell them it is important. Parents acknowledged feeling stressed, anxious, and at times overwhelmed by their child's illness, but felt selfish about doing things for themselves to alleviate their own stress and anxiety.
Treatment team members (e.g., clinicians, nurses, therapists) were seen as the most trusted source of information about self-care. Parents need to hear from their child's treatment team that self-care is not only healthy, but beneficial to everyone. I want parents to understand that doing things that will lower their daily stress and anxiety levels will help them feel more confident, supported, and energized, which will ultimately enhance their ability to participate in their child's recovery. Providing parents with the tools to take care of themselves during their child's recovery process, so that they can better support their child's recovery, is the goal of a new project called Caring for Yourself is Caring for Your Child.
The two-year project is supported by the UNC Eating Disorders Program, Duke Center for Eating Disorders, and UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication's Interdisciplinary Health Communication Program. Even though this project was developed for parents of children with eating disorders the message is important for all caregivers regardless of their child's illness.
Caring for Yourself is Caring for Your Child
You may have seen posters, brochures, buttons, pens, notepads, and a large banner displayed in the Neurosciences Hospital. Please check out the project website: www.CaringIsCaring.org for more information for parents about what self-care is, why it is important, and examples of self-care, as well as resources that treatment team members and parents have found helpful.
- Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., William R. and Jeanne H. Jordan Distinguished Professor, Director, UNC Eating Disorders Program