Caring for the Caregiver: 5 Self-Care Tips to Thrive
by Claudia Wong
Caregiving is a demanding role, one that is often overlooked. Find out how to recognize the signs of caregiver stress, and the 5 self-care tips to thrive as a caregiver.
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans provide unpaid care to adults with health or functional needs, an increase from 43.5 million in 2015 to 53 million in 2020. Of these caregivers, many have reported that caregiving has made their health worse.
A recent study showed that half of all caregivers indicated that caregiving negatively affected their personal health and well-being. Caregivers have less time to take care of themselves and spend time with their families. As a result, they are more susceptible to depression, mood swings, sleep deprivation, resentment, and weight gain.
Recognizing and acknowledging the signs of caregiver stress and burnout is the first step in taking charge of your well-being.
Signs of caregiver stress and burnout:
- Depression and anxiety
- Feeling tired
- Having a diffitult time relaxing
- Sleep issues
- Becoming irritable over minor issues
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling resentful
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Engaging in habits such as smoking, drinking essessive alcohol, or pool appetite or overeating
5 Self-Care Tips to Thrive as a Caregiver:
1. Take Regular Breaks
“Make regular appointments with yourself.”
Pencil in regular time for yourself at least every day. This could look like 10 minutes of deep belly breathing every morning before taking care of other demands, taking 20-minute walks around the block every evening, or making a commitment to attend a weekly Thursday yoga class. Whatever makes you feel grounded and revitalized, make sure to write it down and make it a part of your regular schedule. Downtime for yourself is vital for you to be able to keep up the mental and physical energy that it takes to thrive as a caregiver. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint… and you don’t want to burnout in the first few miles.
2. Ask For Help
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help!”
Avoid trying to be a superhero by doing it all on your own. There are only so many hours a day and only one of you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! By not speaking up, others assume you can handle everything just fine without any assistance. Even if you are not feeling overwhelmed at this very moment, you do not want to wait until it’s too late to wave the white flag.
Spread out the responsibility. Write down a list of tasks that others may be able to do and ask for help! This can include the following:
- A neighbor picking up groceries (or having a tech savvy grandchild order groceries online!)
- An adult child bringing over dinner once a week
- A spouse in charge of arranging medical appointments
- A friend driving your loved one to the local senior center three times a week
- A relative taking a caregiving shift two weekends a month
Setting up a family meeting can also be helpful to brainstorm what tasks can be divided, agree on a caregiving schedule, and discuss how to divide the costs of hiring paid caregivers. Applying for assistance, such as caregiver grants and meal programs, can also be beneficial. And, if needed for safety and caregiver sanity, moving a loved one into a supportive facility may be the best option and should not be overlooked.
3. Nourish Your Mental and Physical Health
“You aren’t doing your loved one a favor if you are running on steam and have a short temper.”
Ignoring your own need for downtime and nourishment will leave you feeling tired and depleted with little energy and patience to take care of another. Resentment can also build if you do not make an effort to schedule regular time for yourself.
Regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting a good night’s rest, taking regular breaks, and maintaining a social life will nourish and fill up your cup. Incorporate healthy habits into your daily life such as mindful deep breathing, meditation, morning walks, and getting regular sunshine. Seek professional help such as with a psychiatrist or psychotherapist when needed.
Do your loved one a favor and take care of yourself. Fill up your cup so you have enough to give, and you will be able to conquer whatever challenges are thrown your way.
4. Simplify Your life!
“Create a light and spacious schedule.”
Trying to do it all but then taking on too many responsibilities and being run ragged from overbooking your schedule? Take a step back and find ways to simplify and create more room in the daily schedule. For example, allow plenty of time to get your loved one ready, figure in extra time to find parking, and schedule only one or two events per day such as appointments or social gatherings. Create more time by setting up autopayment on bills and keeping meal preparation fast and easy. Things take a lot more time than you may expect. Allowing time for managing unexpected hiccups along the way can help decrease stress and anxiety throughout the day.
Learn to say “No.” Listen to your gut instinct about whether or not to take on additional responsibility. You likely already have your hands full being responsible for an entire other person’s care. Take a moment to feel into if this extra task may cause more strain or not. If so, do yourself and your loved one a favor by declining the increased responsibility. This could look like politely refusing to host a family dinner at your place, deciding not to drive across to town to pick up someone from the airport (shared rides and taxis are available, or insisting on a different appointment date as you already have two appointments scheduled that day).
5. Stay Socially Connected
“Stay socially connected as if your life depended on it.”
Social connection is important to physical and mental well-being. Those who are socially connected live a longer and happier life. Being a caregiver puts you at risk of being socially isolated.
Studies have shown that by having an active social life:
- You will likely be in better physical health. High blood pressure, obesity, weakened immune system, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and death have been linked to social isolation.
- You may even lower your risk of dementia. There is growing evidence that keeping up with socialization can improve your cognitive health.
- Your mental health may improve. Research shows a correlation between having good social support and better mental health.
- You may live a longer life. Meta-analysis over 148 studies showed a 50% increased likelihood of survival for study participants who had stronger social relationships.
Make socialization a regular habit. Keep in touch with friends and family. Call a loved one during a walk. Schedule dinner once a week with relatives. Become a regular at a monthly book club. Get your cardio in at a kickboxing class on Fridays with a gym buddy. Facetime with your grandchildren every Tuesday. Attend a caregiver support group. Your physical and mental health flourish with socialization. Plus, it makes life much more enjoyable.
Access a wide range of caregiver resources including caregiving tips, support for caregiver self-care, caregiver grants, caregiver support groups, and connections to community organizations.
- Family Caregiver Alliance
- National Caregiver Alliance
- Find a therapist, psychology, or counselor on Psychology Today
- Insight Timer: Free Meditation App
About the Author
Claudia Wong, MSN, FNP-BC, is an AANP Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner specializing in the care of memory loss, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias. As a Brain Health Nurse Practitioner at the Pacific Brain Health Center, Claudia works closely with physicians and other multidisciplinary team members to provide a collaborative approach to managing these neurodegenerative disorders. Claudia helps patients and their families by creating mutual goals and roadmaps through clinical evaluation, as well as providing guidance with medical, behavioral, and psychosocial recommendations. She also helps with research focusing on personalized interventions to optimize brain health in those with memory loss
Last updated: February 14th, 2022