Self Care for Caregivers

You can’t effectively care for your loved one if you don’t take care of yourself. Caregivers often overlook self-care because they’re too busy, they’re too stressed, they forget, or they value these activities below their countless other obligations. But by practicing self-care, not only can you increase your own well-being, but you can also raise the quality of your assistance to your loved one.

Caregivers who are under mental and emotional stress have a 63 percent higher risk of dying than people in the same age who aren’t caregivers. It’s a shocking statistic, but I’m sure many of you can also relate because you know better than anyone the high toll of caregiving. Caregivers have an increased risk of depression, substance abuse, chronic illness, and decreased quality of life, even though they’re less likely than non-caregivers to practice self care.

So What Is Self Care?

Self care’s an activity you perform to take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health. It’s intentional, deliberate, and self-initiated. The act of self-care should refuel the body and enable you to perform your best in your day-do-day responsibilities. A self-care routine should be actively planned, consciously considered, and should consist of basic activities that you know bring you pleasure and refreshment.

It’s important to focus on the restorative nature of self-care. Journaling to release and understand your thoughts without judgment is a great form of self-care. However, binge-watching Netflix, even though it may be relaxing, often doesn’t constitute self-care. The difference is that most of the time, TV doesn’t enrich or relieve your personal experience. There are exceptions (and you can even find one on my list of suggestions below), but most often plopping down in front of the tube should go alongside self-care, not replace it.

Twenty Self-Care Activities to Get You Started

#1: Ask for help

Seek out a friend or family member who can take something off your plate. Whether it’s asking your mom to walk your dog, asking your friend to help you cook for the week, or asking your brother to borrow his car to run errands more quickly, don’t be afraid to ask others for favors that will make your life easier.

#2: Eat a balanced diet

Eat the rainbow, focusing on a variety of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and lean proteins. Read “A Guide to Healthful Eating in Old Age” and check out some of the resources at the end of the article that provide tips and guidelines for every age group

#3: Practice gratitude

Start a daily list of things that you’re thankful for, keep a gratitude journal, or simply  appreciate other people’s acts of kindness and thank them

#4: Get enough sleep

Make sleep a priority and aim for 7-8 hours every night. Start your bedtime routine earlier, set your alarm later, and squeeze in an afternoon nap, if you can. Sleep is so important for both your mental and emotional health and the benefits of getting enough shut-eye will spread to every corner of your life.

#5: Connect with your friends and express your emotions

Call an old friend who you haven’t talked to in a while, make a friend date to go on a walk or grab a cup of coffee, or plan an escape when you can have the chance to really catch up. Venting to your friends and making yourself vulnerable can provide a lot of mental relief, and your friends will often have great advice that will allow you to consider things from a new perspective.

#6: Pray, meditate, or practice deep breathing

No matter your religious inclinations, spend some time in silence and reflection. Focus on your mind-body connection, the sound of your breath, and a place free of judgment. Check out this great guide to get you started.

#7: Draw

Doodle, sketch from life, or listen to music and just see what comes out on the paper. Use art as a release rather than an exercise that needs to be perfect. Don’t judge your work, just focus on the feeling of creating.

#8: Go on a walk outside or work in the garden

Sunshine is a great source of happiness. Soak up the vitamin D, smell the flowers, and appreciate the sounds and sensations of the world around you. Often the best ideas come from an aimless stroll.

#9: Exercise or stretch

Exercise releases endorphins that naturally boost your mood. Find a kind of exercise that you most enjoy, rather than exercising for health or weight loss. Focus on the way that exercising makes you feel, and you’ll soon reap a whole range of rewards that are so much more satisfying than being skinny.

#10: Write in a journal

Use the space as a private, stress-relieving diary, write a creative short story, or jot down observations about yourself and the world around you. Writing can be a great way to process and understand difficult emotions and events.

#11: Practice a hobby like knitting, baking, or woodwork

Losing yourself in an activity that you do simply for fun can give you a great sense of purpose, accomplishment, and wonder. Try out some different solo and group activities to see what makes you feel best.

#12: Have a cup of tea or hot cocoa

Sometimes all it takes is wrapping your hands around a warm mug and gently breathing in the fragrant, steamy air. Savor each sip and let you mind drift.

#13: Treat yourself to a pedicure, massage, special dinner, or anything that’s guaranteed to make you feel good

Sometimes, you just have to indulge. Banish any guilt about the activity, and give yourself a well-deserved reward for all your hard work. Invite a loved one to accompany you so that you can share the experience together.

#14: Join a caregiver support group

Caregiver support groups can be a great way to meet other people who struggle with the same issues as you. Make new friends, get advice, and feel empowered by the strength of your community. Start your search for a support group here.

#15: Listen to soothing music

Or really, listen to any music that makes you feel good. It can be music from your past that reminds you of happy memories, classical music, or music with inspiring lyrics. Lay down in bed and play it through your speakers or listen through your headphones as you walk around the block.

#16: Seek respite care

There are many sources for short-term care to offer you a break for caring for your loved one. Even if it’s only a couple of hours, everyone needs some time to themselves. Don’t feel guilty and just take the time to do what you need to do to take control of your life and your happiness. There are many different types of respite care including asking a friend or family member, paying for in-home care, putting your loved one in adult day-care, or checking them in for short-term assisted living.

#17: Make yourself laugh

Read a funny book, watch a comedy, browse silly youtube videos, or call a friend who makes you laugh. Laughter really can be the best medicine.

#18: Read a book that stirs your emotions

Read one of your favorite childhood books, one of the novels whose characters you most relate to, or a new book that you’ve been longing to read. Losing yourself in another life offers a great escape from your own and can leave you with a fresh new attitude in moving forward.

#19: Take a bath or a long, hot shower

Fill up the tub with bubbles, pour yourself a glass of wine, dim the lights or light some candles, and read a book, listen to some music, or simply close your eyes. If you don’t have a bathtub, take a shower where you really focus on the sensation of the warm water. Scrub yourself from head-to-toe and appreciate your body and its strength.

#20: Say “No”

Despite what you may think or feel, you don’t have to (nor should you) do everything. Define the boundaries of what you can and cannot do for your loved one and stick to them. It can be hard to stand up for yourself, but your family and friends want you to be happy and they’ll understand.

Final Tips

Read the scholarly article, Supporting Family Caregivers in Providing Care, to learn more about the personal effects of being a caregiver and the interventions that have improved caregivers’ qualities of life.

Try out any of the above self-care activities that speak to you. Aim to set aside at least ten minutes for self-care each day. As you practice and build self-care into your routine, you’ll no longer focus on the time that it takes and just perform the activity until you’re satisfied and rejuvenated. Soon you’ll discover that self-care allows you to be more efficient in your everyday life, and it will become easier and easier to make the time to take care of yourself. It may seem like a chore at first, but just hang in there and keep it up! If one activity doesn’t work, try another! Focus on enjoying yourself and giving yourself the same level of love and compassion that you give to your loved one.