Caregiving

Caring for the Caregiver: 25 Ways to Care for Yourself

It’s an understatement to say that caregivers have a lot on their plates: assisting with personal care, transportation to doctor’s appointments, food preparation, medication management…the list goes on.

Hence the irony: who needs more care than a caregiver?

We know it can be difficult to find the time for self-care, but it’s important to remember that your own wellness is still a priority. We also know caregivers may be too burned out to think of exactly what they need, so we asked our community for suggestions.

Here are 25 tips to help you truly practice self-care:

  • Let go of guilt
  • Join a caregiver support group
  • Stretch and breath
  • Get some laughs
  • Talk to someone once a day
  • Get rest
  • Prioritize nutrition
  • Ask for help
  • Start a CaringBridge site
  • Don’t be afraid to say “no”
  • Ask for flexibility at work
  • Spend quality time with friends and family
  • Take time for prayer/church
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Find time for exercise
  • Reduce caffeine intake
  • Listen to music
  • Treat yourself
  • Make time for your hobbies
  • Play with a furry friend
  • Read books
  • Create self-love mantras
  • Consider professional help
  • Don’t make self-care another “to-do”
  • Be kind to yourself

1. Let Go of Guilt

First of all: know that you are worthy of care, and you do not need to feel guilty or selfish for that. Let go of the notion that putting yourself first is wrong – you’re a human with needs, too.

“It might seem selfish to be a caregiver taking care of yourself first, but it was like what the flight attendants say: ‘Put your own oxygen mask on first.’ Then I was available to be a really supportive caregiver.”

Peter Bailey

2. Join a Caregiver Support Group

Without proper support, providing care can be lonely and isolating. Joining a group of people who share similar experiences can create a strong sense of community and help you feel less alone.

There are multiple types of support groups available – both online or in-person. CaringBridge users shared 9 caregiver support groups that they’ve found to be helpful.

“Cocktails and Chemo is a wonderful organization that helps with caregivers taking care of their loved one with cancer.”

Lori Elsbury

3. Stretch and Breathe

You don’t need to join a yoga studio to know the benefits of breathing and a good stretch. Try these stress relief breathing techniques to help you use your breath for healing.

“Stand facing out a window. Take deep breaths, slowly exhale. Then reach up to stretch, and then down to the floor. It’s a small thing that might be refreshing.”

Carol Havens

4. Get Some Laughs

Whether it’s calling your funniest friend or watching a favorite comedian, it’s important that you still get some regular chuckles.

Laughter can improve your immune system, relieve pain and improve mood.  It’s no wonder they call it the best medicine.

5. Talk to Someone Once a DayClaire Schwab with friend.

You should talk to at least one person other than your care recipient every day – staying social is extremely important for your health.

Have a few people you can trust on speed dial to call whenever you need to vent, or be distracted by a topic other than caregiving.

6. Get Rest

Getting the recommended amount of zzz’s is important for everyone’s general health, and especially so for people like caregivers who are undergoing additional stress.

Here are a few quick tips to get more restful sleep:

  • Try to fall asleep and wake up at consistent times each day
  • Reduce daytime naps
  • Avoid intense movies or shows right before bed
  • Take a relaxing bath or shower
  • Avoid late meals or alcohol before bed

7. Prioritize Nutrition

When you’re busy taking care of someone, it can be easy to turn to fast foods, which are often packed with added sugar or trans fats. These foods may contribute to heartburn, depression/anxiety and a weakened immune system.

With the ongoing stress of caregiving, good nutrition becomes critical to maintain your health and well-being. Here are a few tips for healthier eating:

  • Eat several small meals per day. Five or six may be best.
  • Include protein, vegetables and healing fats (olive oil, butter, nuts, olives) at each meal and snack.
  • Limit consumption of coffee, soda and alcohol.
  • Drink eight to ten glasses of water per day.
  • Avoid processed sugar and carbohydrates. When you crave sugar, slice an apple and spread it with healthy peanut butter (no added sugar or fat).

Good nutrition is nourishing on many levels. Eating healthy will not only help you cope better in the short term, it may also protect you from future health problems.

8. Ask for Help

Caregiving takes a village – trying to do it alone will lead to burnout. As a caregiver, you can create a simple list, calendar or planner with a list of needs. Tell your community what you need and when. If this feels too forward, ask someone who cares about you to create one on your behalf. People truly want to help.

9. Start a CaringBridge Site

CaringBridge is a nonprofit social network dedicated to helping family and friends communicate with and support loved ones during a health crisis. CaringBridge can help caregivers receive the help they need as easily as possible.

For example, our on-site Planner helps you coordinate care and organize needs like bringing meals, rides to doctor appointments or taking care of pets.

If this sounds like it could be helpful, start a free site today.

10. Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”

Caregivers often have a lot going on. Prioritize what’s most important, and empower yourself to say no to something that just doesn’t make the cut.

“I declined that extra invite, sidelined overstepping relatives, and skipped after-hours work events—so I could breathe and focus on what’s really important in life.”

CaringBridge staff member

11. Ask for Flexibility at Work

It can become difficult to balance your work commitments when the role of caregiver is added to your life. Caregiving itself can become its own full-time job.

Consider sitting down with your team and explaining the situation. Work together to see if there are any areas you can have more flexibility, whether it be remote work opportunities or a shifting of work hours.

12. Spend Quality Time with Friends and Family

There’s nothing better than spending face-to-face quality time with your favorite people. Surrounding yourself with the people who love you can provide healing and joy in a difficult time.

Most likely, your friends and family are willing to meet wherever is most convenient for you – don’t feel guilty about asking them to come your way.

“When all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends.”

13. Take Time for Prayer/Church

Prayer is something you can do at any time to get a sense of spiritual peace, and also reduce anxiety and stress. You can request that your loved ones help you start a prayer chain.

Many also find being part of a religious community quite comforting. If making it to a church service is difficult, many churches offer recordings of sermons or even podcasts. You can also see if a church leader would meet at your home.

14. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Even on the days where nothing is going right, there are still things to be grateful for. Keeping a gratitude journal can actually help you rewire your brain to be more positive, and also give you a record to look back to when you’re struggling to see the good.

Whether it’s a physical book or a gratitude app, try regularly writing in your journal to make gratitude a habit.

15. Find Time for Exercise

Exercising doesn’t have to mean spending hours at the gym – you can get a fun and effective workout at home, for free. There are many videos online that can help you with whatever kind of exercise you’re interested in, such as yoga, weight training or dance.

You can also include the person you’re caring for in these activities to enhance their health.

Keep in mind: A walk around the neighborhood still counts as exercise, and can be a great way to relieve stress.

16. Reduce Caffeine Intake

Too much caffeine can cause irritability, sleeplessness and anxiety, all of which caregivers don’t need.

Reducing your caffeine intake may help you feel calmer and less jittery. Try to decrease your consumption gradually by having smaller cups of coffee, trying decaf or switching to tea.

17. Listen to Music

Music is a free, enjoyable means to a happier life. The best part is, you can listen to it while doing pretty much anything – cleaning, driving or cooking.

Try this list of songs scientifically proven to reduce stress.

18. Treat Yourself

Caregivers work hard, and they deserve to reward themselves for their efforts.

Reward yourself by ordering in your favorite meal, buying a new outfit that makes you feel confident, or taking a long bubble bath. What you choose as your treat is entirely up to you – don’t feel pressured to conform to others’ ideas of pampering. Ask yourself: what sounds good right now?

19. Make Time for Your Hobbies

Your hobbies contribute to your happiness, and many aren’t time-consuming or costly.

Consider the activities you enjoy doing just for fun. Do you like gardening? Painting? Photography? Piano? Make a list of your favorite hobbies, and see which of them fit best into your lifestyle. Then, try to incorporate these interests into your daily or weekly routine.

20. Play with a Furry Friend

Animals – especially cats and dogs – can be an incredible support system during difficult times. If you already own a pet, take a few extra minutes to cuddle and play with them.

If you don’t own a pet,  you can ask a friend to bring theirs over for a visit, or take a day trip to the animal shelter. Just 10 minutes petting an animal can lower your stress levels.

21. Read Books

Reading can be very relaxing, and it can also be helpful to read books for caregivers that help you feel less alone in that role.

If you’re looking for something that’s not caregiving-related, this list of books you can’t put down may be helpful as well.

22. Create Self-Love Mantras

A mantra is a word or statement repeated frequently to help focus the mind on a positive message. For caregivers, having a mantra on hand can help to refocus the mind and find the strength to continue on with your day.

Here are a few ideas of mantras for caregivers:

  • I am worthy and deserving of love.
  • Today I choose to be positive.
  • I am a strong, good person.
  • I am doing the best that I can.

23. Consider Professional Help

If needed, professional help can be an option to help you get proper mental health care. This kind of care can be expensive, but there are options that work for any budget: sliding scale therapy, apps and local support groups can all be of service.

24. Don’t Make Self-Care Another “To-Do”

If certain aspects of self-care are truly not in your reach, skip them. Find what works for you, not what others say you should do. Self-care should be something you look forward to and revel in, not dread.

25. Be Kind to Yourself

Lastly, please go easy on yourself. Take things one step at a time. Creating a self-care routine may be a trial and error process, so be patient and kind to yourself while you figure it out. The most important thing is that you simply start including yourself in the conversation of care.

We’d Love to Hear About Your Experiences

If you are or have ever been a caregiver, all of us at CaringBridge truly admire you. Now, here’s a chance for you to help others like you who may be struggling with self-care issues. Please share your ideas, insights and stories in the comments.

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Susan D. Gorman, M.A., SEP, NICABM Practitioner Nov 11, 2019 7:48pm
Hello, friends! I have been a caretaker for two plus years since my husband, John, was diagnosed with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type at Mayo Clinic in September of 2017. I did not believe the diagnosis. There were too many variables. We were given an RX for Aracept and not invited to come back. Our wonderful internist from India said to my attorney/judge husband: “You are still Judge John Gorman, and you are bigger than this disease.” I took his words to heart even though my husband had already seemed to have given up Hope. So, for the past two years, I have looked “high and low” for the best resources for my husband. We spent three days at the Daniel Amen, M.D. Chicago Clinic in Bannockburn IL where both John and I had full brainnspects which did not show Alzheimer’s in my husband’s spects. He does have severe sleep apnea and has not been able to tolerate the CPAP or the dental appliance and is not a candidate for surgery. So, I had tried to get help for my husband for two years and came up empty-handed. I needed the respite, and he had no interest in having a companion. So, I finally missed a step at a concert three plus weeks ago and fractured my left leg in three places at the ankle, heel, and one bone under the 5th metatarsal. I called Home Instead to hire help for myself and have had it for 3 plus weeks six days a week with seven-hour shifts. It is a Godsend. I am in a wheel chair for at least ten more days and then a boot when I will be mobile again, thankfully. My husband has benefited from the social interaction, as I have needed the help. I am a writer who started a book in 2005 about resources for adults who are childhood developmental trauma survivors which I am. Now, my focus has changed to this present day chapter in our lives which has taken a toll on me. My goal is to share my experiences of staying positive and resilient and creative with a huge dose of laughter each and every day. Laughter is our best tool in dealing with this elusive, baffling, confusing disease of memory issues. I just finished a very helpful book today called: “Ambiguous Loss - Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief,” by Pauline Boss. This book gave me affirmation for all of the resources I have found for my husband and also the freedom to let go knowing that I have done everything possible and must now put this whole situation into the hands of God. I do keep hope in my heart and cling to Hope each and every day as we deal with the losses of memory. The Serenity Prayer helps us each day to accept the things we cannot change, to have courage to change the things we can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.