How to Practice Self-Care for Caregivers
As a caregiver, are you practicing self-care?
If not, you should be. This article offers advice, tips, and best practices for taking care of yourself.
- The Ultimate Guide to Caregiver Burnout
- 23 Tips for New Caregivers
- Self-Care for Caregivers
- The Caregiver's Guide to In-Home Safety
The Importance of Caring for Yourself as a Caregiver
Caregiving: one of the most rewarding yet challenging positions to be in.
It's rewarding because you support someone and give them a better life. But it’s also challenging, as it requires a lot of physical, emotional, and mental strength. Consider these statistics:
- 46% of caregivers stated they have too many things to handle
- 42% reported not having enough time to themselves
- 37% of caregivers have emotional difficulties
- 18% have physical difficulties
To hide the fact that caregiving brings many challenges would be wrong-doing. And if you’re struggling in your role, not practicing self-care can be detrimental to yourself and the person you care for.
“Being a caregiver can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be totally exhausting. The relentless responsibility can wear you down after a while, and it can feel thankless at times. I learned the hard way that self-care is a necessity, not a luxury if you are a caregiver.”
- Julia Bobak, Content creator for Home Grounds & Caregiver for Her Father
Every caregiver is at risk of caregiver burnout. This is when the caregiving responsibilities become too hard to handle and cause mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. There are many causes of caregiver burnout, including:
- High demands
- Unclear expectations
- Large workloads
- No privacy or personal time
- A lack of support
- And more.
Self-care can be the difference between merely surviving and thriving as a caregiver. In this guide, we offer our top caregiver self-care tips and help you build the foundations of your self-care routine and rituals to help.
Better Self-Care Starts with Your Mindset & Setting Boundaries
“Sometimes, it’s okay to let some tasks fall by the wayside when life gets overwhelming. As long as your most important priorities are taken care of (i.e., good, shelter, meds, clothing, love), then the rest can wait”
- Aghogho Boccardi, Previous Seven-Year Home Care Aid & Founder of Hope Like A Mother
Did you know one of the most common caregiving mistakes is neglecting personal time?
We all need personal time, especially caregivers. But it’s common to feel selfish for doing so. And personal boundaries tend to hold us back from self-care. You may:
- Feel selfish for caring for yourself
- Have difficulty asking for help
- Feel like you have to prove your worthiness to your care recipient
- Find it challenging to prioritize yourself
- Or feel responsible for their health.
These self-limiting beliefs and negative self-talk can cripple your well-being. This is why the first step toward self-care is to take responsibility. You must identify the personal issues and barriers preventing you from self-care.
“If you do not have boundaries and set limits for yourself, you will not be able to give the person you care for the best version of yourself. Making your entire life revolve around caring for another person can also lead to increased stress, anxiety, and resentment.”
- Danielle Dellaquila, LMSW, CBT, DBT, Senior Associate Therapist at Gateway to Solutions
One step toward overcoming this mindset is to be aware of your daily thoughts and beliefs. A single thought can create a domino of similar thoughts, turning negative thoughts into a negative mindset.
Once you’ve recognized your negative thoughts, you must focus on replacing negative self-talk with positivity.
“Challenge unhelpful, worrisome, or self-critical thoughts that may arise using an affirmation. This is just a simple, mental reminder that self-care is absolutely necessary. It's not a luxury, not less important than other things, and not selfish. Some examples include:
- ‘I am taking care of myself so that I can take care of others’
- ‘I am compassionate to myself such as I give to others’
- And ‘I am doing what my body and my mind need to recharge.’”
- Alyssa Frers, MA, LPC, Lead Outpatient Therapist, Rock Springs Hospital
If you struggle to develop this mindset, don’t be afraid to seek a therapist. They can provide excellent guidance in your caregiving journey.
Plan Out Your Days to Include Self-Care
Your mindset is half the battle. Planning is a core piece of self-care, especially for caregivers. You can use a phone, email, or physical calendar to coordinate your self-care time.
When constructing your calendar, include daily caregiving tasks, appointments, and essential dates first. Next, add time for your self-care. This can be in long or short increments throughout your day. Make your time custom to when you feel you need a break.
If time is limited, try to be flexible and creative with your self-care. For example, during appointments where you have to wait, practice self-care with:
- A meditation session
- A short walk
- Or even get a massage if time allows.
Look for windows of opportunity to care for yourself. It can give you the stamina to make it through each day and feel refreshed.
“One of the best self-care tips for busy caregivers is to give themselves a mental 30-second vacation whenever they feel overwhelmed. This mini-meditation can help reduce blood pressure and increase their chances of realizing their goals.”
- Marie Armitage, Life Coach and Speaker
Once you’ve created your calendar, share it with your care recipient. It will make them feel involved and set boundaries and expectations for your self-care.
Caregiver Self-Care Tools and Skillsets
As mentioned prior in this article, caregiving requires a positive and empowering mindset. You must take responsibility for taking care of yourself as a caregiver; no one else will.
One step toward this is developing your self-care tools and skillsets. This section lists the essential tools and skill sets for caregiver self-care. Remember, self-care isn’t just personal time; it’s also developing your tools and skills to make your role more manageable and less stressful.
Practice Stress Awareness
“It is crucial that you give yourself permission to feel the emotional toll and acknowledge the impact on you. This doesn't make you a bad person or a bad caregiver. This makes you human. Ignoring how we feel doesn't make it go away. It will manifest in other ways.”
- Rachel Kaplan, LCSW
In any role, stress is inevitable. And while many view stress as a result of a situation (glass half-empty), few regard it as also a result of our perception of it (glass half-full). Feelings of stress may be inevitable, but you can dictate how stressed you become and the length of the emotion.
What are Your Stress Factors?
Stress factors are the causes of your stress. It’s essential to be aware of what causes your stress so you can take the necessary steps to relieve and even prevent it. Consider these common caregiving stress factors:
- You’re in an involuntary role. Caregivers are often “forced” into their position. This can create strain, resentment, or distress.
- You have a close or turbulent relationship with your care recipient. Did you know family caregivers are more at risk of caregiver burnout? More intimate relationships can bring more baggage to the caregiver role. Self-care for family caregivers is especially important.
- High role demand with excess responsibilities. If you’re caring for someone with many needs, your stress may be higher. No caregiving role is the same; some require much more effort than others.
- Low levels of support and assistance. If you’re the sole person caring for someone, the weight of your role can be significant.
Tips for Managing Your Stress
Stress management is being proactive rather than reactive with your stress source. Try these tips:
- Acknowledge and relieve stress early. Consider stress like pressure; the longer it sits, the more it builds. Deal with your stress as soon as possible to prevent it from manifesting into burnout.
- Find your sources of stress. When you identify the source of your stress, it can be much easier to relieve it.
- Identify what you can and can’t change. Acceptance is vital in the caregiver role. This is especially important if you’re in an involuntary position.
- Take action with stress reducers. Once you’ve identified the culprit, the next step is to take action. Ask yourself, “how can I resolve this stress” or “what typically is a source of stress relief for me?” Try to be a problem solver, which we’ll cover later.
Set Long-Term Goals with Short-Term Steps
Having goals is vital to effective self-care for caretakers. They can give you a sense of direction, purpose, and control over your future. When considering your goals, try asking yourself:
- What do I want to accomplish in the next month(s)?
- What do I want my future to look like?
- What am I struggling with that I’d like to get better at?
- How can I make my role more manageable and fulfilling?
If you’re struggling to set goals, here are a few examples of goals:
- Take a break from caregiving (go on vacation)
- Be healthier
- Improve my mental health
- Have more free time
Once you’ve set a goal, the next step is to implement your short-term steps. These are the actions needed to accomplish your goal. Here are a few examples:
Long-Term Goal: Take a break from caregiving (go on vacation)
- Choose a destination
- Choose a date
- Find someone to take over your role while you’re gone
- Coordinate and educate them on your responsibilities
Long-Term Goal: Be healthier
- Find an exercise regime and implement it into a daily schedule
- Find a diet plan and start meal prepping
Long-Term Goal: Improve my mental health
- Find a counselor and set up recurring meetings
- Meditate for five-minutes daily
- Write in a gratitude journal daily
Long-Term Goal: Have more free time
- Create a calendar with appointments
- Identify any resources or services to reduce responsibilities
- Implement the resources or services found
- Plan out and add personal time to the calendar
Become a Problem- Solver
As with life, problems are a part of caregiving. And the best way to deal with them is by becoming good a problem-solving. Try these steps to be a better problem solver:
- Identify a list of problems. Ask yourself, “what issues am I experiencing in my role?” or “what’s causing my stress?”
- Choose the problem causing you the most significant issue or is most time-sensitive.
- Determine the root cause(s) of the problem. A key to resolving issues is identifying their causes. View the problem with an aerial view. Ask questions such as “what's behind it?” Investigate the situation by collecting information, analyzing your findings, and refining the cause.
- Create a list of potential solutions. Once you’ve found the cause of the issue, start brainstorming solutions. Don't settle for the first solution that comes to mind. Tap into resources such as caregiver guides, forums, or friends and family to gather your options.
- Choose the most promising solution first. Look at your list and consider the pros and cons of each. Ask yourself, “does this resolve the issue, and acknowledge the root cause(s)?” Once you’ve chosen the solution, plan and take steps to take action.
- Measure the success. Once you’ve implemented your solution, look at its effects. Did it resolve the issue? If not, why? Does it need to be modified?
- Try another solution. If your first solution didn’t work, try another! Problem-solving is about trial and failure until you find what works.
- If failure persists, revisit it later. Sometimes problems can’t be solved, and that’s okay. It’s okay to accept defeat and move on. Once the dust has settled, you can come back and try again.
Practice Strong Communication
“It’s important to communicate. There can be pressure to be the perfect caregiver, but we’re just human. Sharing how you feel with a trusted friend or family member can really help. I opened up to my dad about how I was feeling, and we agreed that I would take some time out for myself. This improved things for both of us and made me able to be truly present when I was with him.”
- Julia Bobak, Content creator for Home Grounds & Caregiver for Her Father
Communication is vital to successful caregiving. Strong communication with your care recipient, doctors, or those helping you can reduce stress and ensure you are well taken care of. Consider these tips for good communication:
- Be assertive, genuine, constructive, and patient. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings, especially when burnt out. Whether you’re listening or speaking, be patient.
- Resort to “I” messages instead of “you.” A common mistake in communication is using “you” statements. For example, saying, “you made me angry.” This can make others be defensive. Instead, say, “I feel angry.”
- Try to be clear and precise. When communicating, have a clear message and point that you’re trying to make. It can help to write your message down, so you don’t lose sight of it.
- Listen and digest the message before responding. It’s a common mistake to formulate a response while a person is talking. Practice listening to the message and repeating it in your head. This will help you acknowledge the message and have a proper response.
- If failure persists, keep trying. Communication is a difficult road. It’s filled with twists and misunderstandings. If communication fails, try again later. It may not be a good time.
Ask for Help and Utilize Available Resources
One of the most significant causes of caregiver burnout is work overload. While every role is different, most caregivers need help, and that’s okay.
It’s essential to know the following:
- Your limitations
- Where do you struggle the most
- And how you can get assistance.
Many caregivers struggle to ask for help because they feel selfish or it’s a sign of weakness. However, it’s not. Asking for help is a sign of courage and self-awareness. By asking for help, you know your weaknesses and what's best for your care recipient.
A great way to start is by writing down the tasks you struggle with. These can be from a lack of resources, personal knowledge, or physical strength. Next, gather your resources. If you’re struggling to gather resources, we’ve highlighted a few below.
Family Members and Close Friends
Those you’re closest to can be significant support sources. Gather a list of people you’re close to with their contact information and how you think they’d be able to help. Reach out to them and ask if they’d be willing to assist you and in what capacity.
When forming your support group, suggest a regular task they’d be assigned. This can include picking up items, grocery shopping, taking your care recipient to appointments, and more. It can also be in the form of shifts: periods in which the caregiver role is assigned to them. This can give you personal time for self-care.
Hire Help for Non-Caregiving Related Tasks
In the age of gig work and online help, hiring people for simple tasks such as grocery delivery, cleaning, lawn care, and home maintenance is easier than ever. If your care recipient is significantly disabled, these might be a necessity. A few great resources and services that can help include:
Hire an In-Home Caregiver for Specific Tasks
Are there specific caregiver tasks you struggle with? You can hire a professional caregiver to come to your care recipient’s home a few times weekly to help. Professional caregivers can help with a variety of things, including:
- Personal hygiene
- Physical therapy
- Meal preparation
- Doctor appointments and medication needs
- In-home safety and fall prevention
- And more.
There are a variety of websites that make finding help easy, such as Care.com.
Adult Day Programs
An adult day program offers a way for your care recipient to receive care during the day. These programs are usually tailored for an older demographic with senior activities and events. They can give older adults a chance to socialize and alleviate loneliness.
These programs may be suitable if you work during the day and can’t tend to your caregiving role. Your care recipient may also benefit from adult day care if they:
- Struggle or can't be to be alone
- Have difficulty starting and focusing on activities
- Have anxiety or depression and need social or emotional support
- Feel isolated and lonely
- Or are unable to structure their daily activities.
Respite care is much like adult day care, with the key difference being how often they are used. Whereas adult day care reoccurs daily, respite care can be used as infrequently as needed. These programs include professional caregiver services and sites where you drop your care recipient off and later pick them up.
If money is an issue, many free volunteer resources are explicitly tailored for family caregivers. A few include:
- Elder Helpers
- Local Organizations
- Lotsa Helping Hands
- National Volunteer Caregiving Network
Support Groups, Forums, and Newsletters
Self-care comes in many forms. One of the most undermined forms is self-education and training. It's essential to learn about the role and what it takes to be a happy, healthy, and functioning caregiver.
“A support group has the potential to provide validating and encouraging feedback, in addition to providing skills for problem-solving when confronted with challenging circumstances. Support group members are likely to understand what you are going through since they have been there themselves.”
- Tyler Seeger, Managing Director of Retirement Being
It’s also great to get advice and tips from other caregivers in similar situations. This can prevent isolation and provide empowerment. Caregiving is complex, and the internet can be a valuable source of information.
Here are a few caregiver resources to get you started:
- Carex’s ‘Caring for Each Other’ caregiver newsletter
- Daily Caring’s daily newsletter
- Aging Care’s caregiver forum
- Caring for Elderly Parents Facebook group
- Caregiver Support Group Facebook group
“Caregivers should connect with other caregivers. They should have their own social circle. The reason is that only caregivers can understand their problems. If there is someone who can understand your problem or is going through similar experiences, connect with them. It will make you feel better.” - Nadzeya Sankovich, Researcher at Health Reporter
Exercise and Care for Your Body
Regardless of your role or responsibilities, caring for your body is vital.
This means incorporating adequate exercise and wellness into your day. Be mindful of your physical and emotional well-being. If something feels off, don’t ignore it. Doing so can only lead to worsened symptoms.
19 Self-Care Ideas for Caregivers
No self-care routine is precisely the same. Your self-care should be tailored to your needs, wants, and schedule. Below, we’ve listed 19 self-care activities for caregivers to try out.
“Brainstorm a few practices that you either know help you get into the desired state or that you suspect might be useful. Some to consider include things like: practicing gratitude, getting natural light in the morning, meditating or a mindfulness exercise, setting your intention or schedule for the day, waiting until after you've done something important to check email, doing something creative or something fun.” - Ashley J. Smith Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist
- Mind-body practices like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing for 15-minutes daily
- Meal prep with healthy food centered around your favorite foods and nutrition needs
- Stay connected socially with friends or find caregiver support groups
- Find a workout routine you enjoy
- Plan for a vacation
- Find (or resume) a hobby you enjoy
- Schedule a nap throughout each day
- Go to a spa or get a massage regularly
- Stretch for five minutes at the end of each hour
- Do reflective journaling at the end of each day
- Create a bucket list and plan to check them off
- Create a list of local attractions to travel to
- Find a local caregiver support group
- Listen to your favorite music and plan to go to a concert
- Spend time in nature
- Spend 30-minutes outside daily
- Plan out short moments of peace and relaxation throughout your day
- Find something you’d like to buy and create a savings plan for it
- Read one inspirational and hope-inducing quote each day
Self-Care is a Journey, Not a Destination
“Self-care should be an ongoing process, and regular attention is needed. ” - John Landry, Registered Respiratory Therapists, Respiratory Therapy Zone
We’ve covered a lot in this guide.
Your self-care is essential, especially if your caregiver role is intensive. Failure to take care of yourself will eventually lead to caregiver burnout. To recap:
- Remember that you are worthy of self-care, and it’s not selfish to do so.
- Work on setting your mindset and boundaries for self-care.
- Gather your resources and skillsets for caregiving.
- Plan out your days to include self-care
- And tailor your self-care routine around your wants and needs.
A common misconception is that self-care is a destination. It’s not. Self-care is a continuous journey that requires daily maintenance. Even on days when you can’t do much, taking a five-minute break can give you a much-needed reset.
What does your caregiver self-care checklist look like? We’d love to know! Leave a comment below with your favorite self-care tips and routines.
About the Author
Brandon Landgraf is the Digital Marketing Manager for Carex Health Brands. He finds passion and fulfillment in creating content that enhances, improves, and enlivens others' quality of life. All of his written work is formulated to not only offer essential advice and tips but back it with proven studies and experts. His mission is to connect with readers and provide steps to make their lives better.
You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.
About Carex Health Brands
Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.