This article originally appeared on GoodMenProject.com
We often don’t talk about men as caregivers. The focus is often on women as caregivers, and indeed, women are caregivers, often at higher rates in both the personal and professional realms. However, men care too!
Many men are stay-at-home fathers, are caregivers to aging parents, raise special needs children, or are partners to someone who requires care due to illness or other health-related needs. Some men are in caregiving professions such as healthcare, social work, long-term care, education, counselling, and are change agents where caring is at the occupational core.
All caregivers need tools and practices that can help them prevent caregiver stress and burnout, common risks that can result from the other-focused nature of caring that might leave an individual depleted and overwhelmed themselves.
In my career as a Registered Social Worker and Wellness Coach, I have spent over 30 years working as and with caregivers in some way. For the past 20 years, I have focused on providing training and coaching in the areas of self-care, resilience, and burnout prevention with helping and healthcare professionals.
I am also the daughter of two parents with Alzheimer’s disease. My father passed away from this unmerciful disease on my birthday in 2017 and my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s earlier that same year. I understand caregiving – both its demands, and, on good days, its rewards.
As caregivers, we need tools that help us manage caregiver stress and replenish. As a man who cares, how do you fill your own cup as a caregiver? How do you care for yourself? How do you get your own needs for wellness, replenishment and support met?
There are many things one can do for self-care and stress management. One of my favourite and effective go-to strategies for replenishment and learning as a caregiver is journaling. Journaling is the simple act of writing down your thoughts and feelings, as well as your insights, to help you get things out and also to learn from your experiences. This type of reflective self-expression that can happen through journaling is proven to have health benefits.
Expressive writing heals. There have been many research studies done on the healing power of writing, including by research psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker. His research suggested that writing about emotions and stress can boost immune functioning and help support healing and overall health. Not all people who write will experience such benefits, but many report stress relief and other positive benefits from writing about their thoughts and feelings. Pennebaker has explained that writing can be healing because it helps put some structure and organization to your thoughts. Likewise, it helps you to express your anxious or stressful feelings, and this can help you get past them.
As the Director of the International Association for Journal Writing, I like to connect with men who journal as I am always curious about why they write and about their overall experiences with journaling.
I recently spoke with Victor Imbimbo, CEO of Caring Today, a large network of support for family caregivers. Victor is not only the leader of Caring Today, an online support and information resource, he has been a caregiver to his beloved wife for 19 years. In our conversation, he mentioned that he is a journal writer. This caught my attention, and I briefly asked some questions about his journaling experience, here is what he said:
LM: How long have you been journaling?
VI: I have been journaling for 43 years. I started journaling when I was 26 years old.
LM: Why do you journal?
VI: At times, I can feel so much turmoil internally. It is hard to see the bright spots in the middle of the storm. When I write, I feel more balance. Sometimes it can feel like so much is out of control. Writing gives me a greater sense of control. I can author my own narrative. It helps me absorb things and look my issues from the other side, giving me a more objective view.
Now it’s your turn to journal. Here are 3 journaling activities you can try for stress relief and self-care as a caregiver.1. Write for Comfort and Renewal
Caregiving can be overwhelming and exhausting. Of course, it can also be meaningful and rewarding. As a man who cares, what brings you feelings of comfort or renewal? Take a few minutes and write about these things. Just writing about what brings you comfort, can in fact, be comforting!
2. Your Self-Care Inventory
Your self-care matters. Turn to your journal to reflect on what you do for self-care. How do you take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? These are four key dimensions of well-being. Your body, mind, heart, and spirit all need attention to stay healthy and strong. Perhaps you go to the gym, meditate, talk with a trusted friend, and spend time in nature to nurture your spirit.
Use these journaling prompts to help you think about your own self-care:
I care for my physical well-being by…
I care for my mental well-being by…
I care for my emotional well-being by…
I care for my spiritual well-being by…
The one thing that really makes a difference to my overall health and well-being is…
3. Journaling Quickies
You might only have 5 minutes to journal. You don’t have to write for long to gain benefit from it. Set your timer on your phone for 5 minutes and use these journaling prompts for some writing sprints, or as I like to call them: journaling quickies.
Right now, I notice…
Right now, I feel…
Right now, I need…
Right now, I am grateful for…
Find what works for you. You can make your journaling practice your own. As Victor Imbimbo said, you can write your own narrative! Thank you for making a difference with your caring.