Tips for Caregivers:  8 Ways To Incorporate Self-Care

Because caregiving is extremely taxing on our physical and emotional health, self-care is a necessity for caregivers.

It is important that we ensure our own health is not neglected.  Doing so only leads to burnout, increased stress, and decreased overall health, which diminishes our ability to provide effective care to our loved ones. 

How Can I Incorporate Self-Care Into My Routine?

While caregiving can be all-encompassing, we must find the time to take care of our own health.  Health is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

Below is a list of 8 ways to incorporate some self-care into your daily routine.  Start small, and work up to incorporating all 8 over the week.

1. Prioritize Self-Care: Taking care of yourself is essential to providing the best care to your loved one.  You must prioritize your health and wellness, just as you prioritize their needs.

Tip: Next time your loved one needs to go to the dentist, schedule an appointment for yourself.   Instead of sitting in the chair watching your loved one get their teeth cleaned, you could be in the adjoining room getting yours cleaned at the same time.

2. Seek Support: You can’t do this alone.  While you may be the sole caregiver, being able to talk, vent, or cry with someone other than your loved one can be very therapeutic. 

Tip: Reach out to family, friends, healthcare professionals, clergy, or counseling services for emotional support or guidance.  Clergy, city/county/state services, and even some healthcare professionals, may be able to refer you to free counseling services.

3. Take Breaks: Short breaks throughout the day can help you refresh and refocus.

Tip: Set aside some time throughout the day to read a magazine, enjoy a cup of tea, or take a nap.

If your loved one is completely dependent on you, and requires your constant attention, use time when your loved one is otherwise occupied (e.g., taking a nap, in the dentist chair, getting their hair done) to take a break.

4. Stay Active: Regular physical activity will increase your energy levels and improve your overall health.

Tip: Prioritize your health and find time to engage in physical activity:  meditate, stretch, dance, do some strength exercises, Pilates, yoga, etc.

Just  like with taking a break, if you must, use time when your loved one is occupied with other things.

5. Eat A Balanced Diet: You must maintain proper nutrition in order to maintain your overall health.

Tip: If your loved one needs your assistance during meal-time, do not forgo proper nutrition for yourself.  During meal-prep, make/purchase enough for everyone in the house.  Then enjoy your meal when you have the time.  Do not resort to junk food because your time is limited.

6. Engage Your Mind: The best way to stave off dementia, loneliness, and depression is to make time for activities that bring you joy and fire your synapses.

Tip: Prioritize your time to do something that brings you fulfillment each day: reading, gardening, listening to music, doing a puzzle, etc.

Just  like with taking a break, if you must, use time when your loved one is occupied with other things.

7. Stay Connected: You must maintain social connections with people outside of your caregiving role to prevent feelings of depression and isolation.

Tip: Regularly schedule time to get together with friends, family, or colleagues.  The interaction doesn’t have to be in-person.  Phone conversations and virtual meetings are also great ways to stay connected.  

Additionally, if someone in your circle is in a similar situation, arrange for a ‘loved one play date’.  This will allow you to stay connected, while providing an opportunity for your loved one to get out of the house, and possibly make a new friend.

8. Monitor your mental and physical health: Pay close attention to your mental health.  Do not dismiss any abnormalities in your mood.

Tip: If you notice any symptoms of anxiety, burnout, or depression, seek professional help immediately.

What are the differences between anxiety, burnout, and depression?

Anxiety is the feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease and is a natural response to stress, that can manifest in physical and/or emotional symptoms with varying degrees of intensity, from mild to severe. Symptoms:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Muscle tension or aches
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling tense or jumpy

If you experience persistent, or excessive anxiety that interferes with your daily routine, seek professional help for management and treatment.

Burnout is the result of prolonged bouts of stress that cause emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion.  These symptoms are typically related to work or caregiving responsibilities; such as high workload, lack of control over one’s work, unclear expectations, and inadequate support, which can negatively impact a person’s performance, job satisfaction, and health. Symptoms:

  • Chronic fatigue or exhaustion
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Increased susceptibility to illnesses
  • Digestive issues or stomach pain
  • Feeling physically and emotionally drained
  • Increased irritability or frustration
  • Loss of motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Forgetfulness or impaired memory
  • Reduced creativity or problem-solving abilities
  • Decreased attention to detail and productivity
  • Persistent feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Withdrawal from social activities or interactions
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms
  • Procrastination

It is important to recognize the signs of burnout and take steps to address it.  Seeking support, setting boundaries, practicing self-care, and getting professional help, is essential for prevention and recovery.

Depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest/pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable. It can significantly impact your ability to function daily, lead to a decreased quality of life, as well as increase the risk of other health problems. Symptoms:

  • Feeling down, hopeless, or empty
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Insomnia, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Excessive sleeping or lethargy during the day
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling physically drained or lacking energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

To sum it up…

Self-care is essential for caregivers to maintain our health, well-being, and ability to provide competent, compassionate care to our loved ones.

It is not selfish!  It is required to ensure the caregiver maintains optimal health, so he/she can effectively care for their loved one, and not become the person who needs a caregiver. 

As noted above, many medical conditions have similar, or overlapping symptoms.  It is very important that you do not self-diagnose and treat yourself, as you could be treating the wrong condition.  Also seek medical advice to ensure you are getting the proper treatment.    

Below are links to some helpful resources for caregivers:

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