Even though the expression “never judge a book by its cover” is popular, the truth is that most people do decide very quickly about a person based on their appearance. Psychologists and other mental health professionals use a term called “Thin-Slicing” to refer to how our brains make millisecond judgments based on what we see. These judgments can determine whether to trust someone or not or, in the case of grooming, how well (or not), our lives are going.
Picking yourself up
Take a look in the mirror. Since becoming a caregiver, has your personal appearance taken a hit? Are you as well-dressed and groomed as you were prior to becoming a caregiver? Have you slacked off, made excuses for wearing the same pj’s, shirt or sweats all day, every day and given up on your morning grooming routine? Yes, caregiving can be overwhelming, unpredictable, time consuming and often, quite isolating. It can lead to an abundance of clutter, unfinished laundry, unmade beds and a variety of emotions that come and go throughout the day.
But something you may not realize is that part of keeping our spirits up, and our challenging emotions in check can be linked to our ability to keep ourselves clean, tidy and well-groomed.
Experts suggest that getting up, getting dressed and being well put-together improves not only a person’s ability to communicate, but it boosts self-confidence and improves attitude. Feeling good about oneself also fosters the ability to be more focused, productive and think more clearly.
Easy to forget about
Self-care is not always a priority for caregivers. We just give and give with rare moments to prioritize our own needs. Finding the time and energy to do what you can to keep yourself in the best shape and well groomed is key. And, as research demonstrates, maintaining your own health and well-being is key to being valuable caregiver for others. Some of the biggest benefits of self-care for caregivers include:
Burnout or extreme stress happen when we are overworked, feel out of control, have little or no joy in our lives and are emotional and physically spent. Burnt out caregivers often have feelings of resentment, negativity and hopelessness. Doing something kind for yourself, even for a few minutes, is a simple way to escape the caregiving blues. Brushing your teeth, washing your face with a warm, wet facecloth after lunch and changing into a fresh dress or blouse may just give you a boost and the strength to continue on with a smile.
Start and end with good intentions
Your mindset changes to “ready” when you get showered and put on clean clothes. It sets the tone for your day and tells your brain that you are now preparing to tackle your to do list and goals. Similarly, at the end of the day, having a long, hot shower and changing into your pj’s sends the message that your day is complete and you are ready to relax.
Getting “dressed up,” doing your hair and putting on make-up or aftershave, etc. gives you more confidence and helps you focus on your purpose for the day. Studies have shown it even improves how we think. Let’s take a look at how three caregivers are doing with their self-care and grooming:
Meet Mark. Mark has been his wife Judith’s caregiver since she was a passenger in a car accident nine months ago. She now has trouble walking and taking care of herself. They have a personal support worker who comes in every morning, but Mark spends his waking hours managing Judith’s care, as well as working part-time from home. He takes her to medical and rehab appointments and does all the cooking, shopping and housekeeping. Time always felt tight and truthfully, Mark was overwhelmed.
It was not until his sister dropped by and made a few jokes about him looking like a madman, that he looked in the mirror. It was then that he realized that he’d forgotten to get a haircut and had been wearing the same t-shirt and jeans on and off for several weeks. His sister was right, Mark knew he had better come up with a plan to take better care of himself.
Although he still has a busy schedule, Mark figured:
• Get up 30 minutes earlier than Judith to have a shower, shave and brush his teeth.
• Organize his clothes for the next day each night.
• Put his dirty clothes in the laundry hamper each night at bedtime.
• Ask the personal support worker to help with changing the beds and Judith’s laundry to give him more time.
• Mark haircut reminders in his day planner once every few weeks.
• Ask his sister to stay with Judith so he can use the mani/pedi certificate she gave him for his birthday.
• Book a dental checkup.
These simple, important new grooming plans will not only make Mark feel and look better, but will help keep him more upbeat, resilient and helpful for his wife during her rehab.
Meet Sharon. Sharon’s life as a caregiver got a lot more complicated seven weeks ago. In addition to caring full-time for her mother with dementia and her aging cat Maggie who has become deaf and blind, Sharon tripped on a pile of books and broke her foot.
Since then she’s been off work, hasn’t had the energy to look for a new job and spent most days in her housecoat. Feeling embarrassed, when the new homecare worker showed up to help her mom, Sharon realized that she was getting lazy. Perhaps an improved appearance would help her feel less moody and lethargic.
Sharon decided to get her act in gear by doing the following:
• Tidying up the house as best she could.
• Having a bath and washing her hair every other day.
• Using whitening toothpaste twice a day.
• Planning her weekly wardrobe by deciding in advance what she would wear each day, even when staying at home all day.
• Wearing a scarf or putting on different earnings a couple of times each week, especially for doctor’s appointments.
• Getting dressed after breakfast to officially start her day.
• Washing her face twice daily and exfoliating every Sunday using some nice new products that she picked up at the pharmacy downstairs in her condo building.
Sharon now is pleased with her new self-care routine and finds she has a better attitude and is more productive and in control of her day. She’s already looking for a new job and has an appointment to get her cast off coming up.
Meet Beth. Beth was laid off from her full-time job when COVID-19 stuck. She was on her own, so rather than pay rent she decided to move back home and help care for her aging parents. Her dad had a stroke and her mom lives with lymphedema, which affects her mobility.
At first, it seemed like a good idea. Her siblings were not willing, or able, to step in and help, so Beth agreed to pitch in. The joy of caregiving and giving back turned quickly into boredom, loneliness and resentment after four months of being cooped up. She no longer cared about how she looked. Her hair needed colouring and she’d put on weight, making her clothes too tight. And her gym was closed.
She really had nothing to look forward to until she joined a caregiver support group. At those meetings, she noticed that other caregivers in similar situations were looking a lot better than she was. Looking in the mirror, she acknowledged that she had really let herself go. She created a personal care plan that she continues to follow because it is realistic and simple.
Her plan includes:
• Going to the hairdresser for a haircut.
• Enjoying a long soaking bath.
• Cleaning out her closest of all the clothes that she no longer wears and organizing the ones remaining.
• Buying a few good clothes instead of the cheapest things she can find.
• Investing in good shoes.
• Wearing lipstick and a bit of make-up when leaving the house.
• Getting more sleep and drinking more water daily.
• Rewarding herself by getting a facial or pedicure.
Beth now feels more empowered, self-confident and even less bitter. Getting dressed daily in clean, different clothes and keeping a regular grooming routine are keys to a successful, healthy life. They affect your attitude, your confidence and your happiness. Take a look in the mirror and if you have neglected your appearance lately, now’s the time to upgrade and improve it. After all aren’t you worth taking care?
Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an internet-based charity that offers education and support to family caregivers.