Take Care of Your Own Needs Too

When you are the caregiver for a loved one, it’s easy to put yourself on the back burner.  You want to give your loved one the best care by putting their needs first and making them your priority.

But as natural as this is, it could be a mistake that backfires for you and your loved one.  When you ignore your own needs, you jeopardize your physical and mental health, which impacts the quality of care you give. 

You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t give from an empty cup.”  That’s especially true when it comes to caregiving.  When you are depleted, you lack resources to give the care you want to provide.

So what can you do?

First, realize that caring for yourself is an investment that pays off ten-fold for you and your loved one.  Let go of the idea that caring for yourself is selfish – it’s not.  It’s the responsible thing to do.

Next, take steps to replenish yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally so you can be the caregiver you want to be.

Start with these 17 tips

Take Care of Yourself Physically

  1. Eat nutrition-dense foods.  When you’re caring for a loved one, it’s easy to grab a snack rather than a meal or even skip eating altogether.

    But your body is under extra stress which depletes your energy.  It’s similar to your car.  You wouldn’t run your car on fumes or fill the tank with inferior gas.  The same goes for your body.  Fuel yourself with high-quality nutrition at regular intervals so you have the energy and stamina to be the caregiver you want to be.

  2. Fit in ‘snack-sized’ periods of physical activity.  As a caregiver, it’s tempting to skip workouts or other physical activity.  You might feel you don’t have time or you’re too tired.  But even as little as 5-10 minutes of activity will get your blood moving and shift your energy level.Try a quick walk around the block, an exercise video, or even climbing your home staircase for 5 minutes.  How about putting on some upbeat music and dancing to a couple of songs? Any of these activities will get your endorphins flowing and refresh your mind.

  3. The flip side of activity is rest.  You can’t burn the candle at both ends and expect to provide good care for your Loved One.  When you rest, you allow your mind and body to renew and replenish.  You’ll be a better caregiver for your Loved One when you are rested.

  4. Take a nature break.  The sights, sounds, and smells of nature reduce stress and rejuvenate you.  A hike in nature is great, but if that doesn’t fit in your schedule, a quick walk in your neighborhood, or even standing on the porch to watch the sunset will restore you.

    Playing in the dirt is good for you too.  Gardening, caring for plants, even pulling weeds connects you to nature.  If outdoor gardening isn’t feasible, then try potted plants on the porch or even a houseplant or two.  Any of these allow you to tap into the healing power of soil and growing things.

  5. Keep up with your own medical appointments.  I know, you’re already overwhelmed managing your Loved One’s appointments and all the other things that are on your plate.  But there is solid research that caregiving takes a toll on the caregiver’s own health.  High blood pressure, increased heart disease, increased pain levels are just a few of the health consequences caregivers can face. You can read more here. Schedule those appointments, don’t put them off.

  6. Laugh.  Whether you play with a pet, watch funny videos, or join a joke group on Facebook, laughter heals your body and soul.  Laughing releases those feel-good endorphins that reduce stress, pain, and depression. You’ve heard that laughter is the best medicine, so allow it to work for you.  Caregiving is hard; laughter helps.

Take Care of Yourself Mentally

  1. Personal time. You deserve time every day to spend on nothing but yourself.  Whether it’s 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or 30 minutes, you need this.  It is not selfish; it is not unkind.  It is necessary for your own physical and mental health. Schedule it in and then do it.

  2. Keep up with a hobby.  Carve out time in your week to stay connected with your favorite hobby.  It’s tempting to let caregiving take over your life, almost erasing the things you enjoyed in the past.  But don’t give in to the temptation. Even 15 minutes doing something that brings you joy keeps you balanced and connected to your non-caregiving self.

  3. Exercise your brain.  Your brain requires exercise the same way your body does.  And just like the physical atrophy of your body, mental atrophy impairs your ability to function.  Try jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, sudoku, brainteasers, mystery stories, Scrabble, or even Solitaire to keep your brain active and alert.

  4. Learn something new.  When was the last time you learned something new? How about learning a new card game?  A new computer program? A new song to play or sing?  When you learn a new skill, new pathways are created in your brain which produce stress-reducing, ‘feel-good’ chemicals.

  5. Books, podcasts, and audiobooks.  These are great ways to kill two birds with one stone by providing mental stimulation plus the opportunity to learn something new at the same time.  Podcasts and audiobooks have the advantage of being mobile, allowing you to listen while walking, driving, washing the dishes, and other day-to-day tasks.

  6. Get organized.  A disorganized environment leads to a stress-filled mind.  Go ahead and organize that drawer or tabletop.  Or even that closet that’s been bothering you.

    And definitely organize those medical and legal documents pertaining to your Loved One.  Compiling them into a file or binder will reduce your stress and allow you to function more effectively. 

Take Care of Yourself Emotionally

  1. Spend time with uplifting people.  Getting together face-to-face is great, but also stay in touch with quick phone calls, Facetime, or even text messages.  How about grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend on your way to the grocery store?  Even ‘snack-sized’ bites of friendship and support can keep you running on all cylinders.

  2. Listen to your favorite music.  Whether it’s radio, CDs, vinyl, or streaming, your favorite music will soothe and restore you.  Music connects to the deepest parts of your brain and brings about chemical changes that reduce stress.  Your favorite music also reminds you of happy memories, which in turn boosts your spirits.

  3. Connect with other caregivers.  One of the most common things caregivers say is that they feel isolated and alone.  As a caregiver, you’re experiencing things that only another caregiver can relate to.  Friends and family love and support you, but a fellow caregiver understands your circumstances on a different level.  Connect with other caregivers in local support groups, face-to-face meetups, online support groups, and even Facebook groups.  You are not alone; there is someone who understands your situation and relates to your experiences.

  4. Set limits and boundaries. Caregiving for your Loved One has the potential to become an all-encompassing aspect of life.   Limits and boundaries are important protections to maintain your own physical, mental, and emotional health.  Use limits and boundaries to safeguard your personal time, mental space, and your own emotions.  Caregivers whose limits are soft and mushy are at risk of losing themselves in the caregiving process.  This is not a good situation for you or your Loved One.

  5. Keep a journal.  Whether you jot quick notes or write in detail, keeping a journal helps you process your thoughts and feelings about the caregiving experience.  Set aside a few minutes before bed or over your morning cup of coffee to reflect on your day.  When you are aware of your thoughts and emotions, you can process your experiences more easily.

Recognize that you are a hero

Providing care for a loved one is one of the greatest gifts you can give. So acknowledge yourself for all that you do, and know that you are making a difference in the life of your Loved One. 

Then take care of your own needs so you can be the caregiver you want to be.