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Caregiving can be both physically demanding and emotionally draining. Taking time to care for yourself in this season is essential. As evidenced by the cliché example of airplane safety, you need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. This is because we can only effectively help others when our needs are met. It’s easy to forget to care for yourself as a caregiver, but self-care is crucial in your role. When your needs are met, the loved one in your care benefits too. In this article, we will explore why self-care is important for caregivers and offer simple ideas to implement self-care in your routine.

3 Reasons Self-Care is Important for Caregivers

Self-care can feel like an extra responsibility on your plate that’s easy to push off when time is tight. Instead of looking at self-care as a necessary task on your to-do list, try to see it as a precursor to your to-do list. Consider it like charging your electronic devices overnight — just a small amount of effort so they work all day.

Here are three reasons caregivers should prioritize self-care:

Protect your health

As a caregiver, you are at a much higher risk of illness, hospitalization, and death than the average population of non-caregivers. Research has pointed to the combination of stress, the physical demands of caregiving, the emotional grief and exhaustion, and lack of time off as a recipe for health problems.

To counteract some of the more difficult emotional struggles, self-care is an incredible tool to keep in your toolbox. If you pile pressure on day after day—and for too many caregivers, year after year—you will eventually snap without an outlet. You cannot continue to provide care if you end up hospitalized yourself. This is why we say self-care isn’t selfish, it’s essential.

Prevent burn out

Caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue are two serious and preventable results of caregiving. Burnout is “a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It may be accompanied by a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.” (Source)

Burnout is usually caused by things like:

  • A lack of help
  • An unrealistic workload 
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Prolonged stress
  • Sadness, loss, and grief
  • Unrealistic expectations about the reality of care
    To elaborate on this one, too many caregivers believe they can prevent or reverse the impact of a chronic or debilitating injury or illness. It’s important to realize that you cannot stop the impact of the ailment plaguing your loved one. Attempting to or believing you are responsible to do so is a recipe for burnout, anxiety, and depression.

Once burnout creeps in, it can take a very long time to reverse. The best way to combat burnout is to prevent it. 

Provide better care

If the idea of self-care to protect yourself feels unconvincing, then it should help you to know that your loved one will benefit too. When you show up to provide care in a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, it is hard to maintain a positive attitude throughout the day. If, on the other hand, you show up well-rested, content, and at peace, that will easily shine through into the care you provide for the rest of the day.

Just a few minutes a day focused on yourself and your well-being will pay off multiple times over as you provide care to your loved one.

7 Ideas for Self-Care

When you’re responsible for others, it’s easy to forget about yourself. Here are 7 quick but impactful ideas of ways to incorporate self-care into your day.

Talk to someone you trust 

Finding a friend or family member or even a coworker or neighbor to discuss your frustrations, struggles, and emotions with once a week can help you relieve some of the pressure. Just as a kettle lets off some steam to prevent boiling over, you too can benefit from a little outlet.

Be realistic

If you put too much on your plate, it’s OK to admit that you need help. Similarly, recognize where you’re putting unrealistic pressure and expectations on the outcomes of your care. You cannot cure the loved one in your care, all you can do is support them. If this is an issue that seems hard to overcome, start a journal and document the things overwhelming you. Not only will this help you free up your mental space, but it will also give you a concrete list of things you can ask others to help you with.

Eat right and exercise

This is a classic self-care tip, but a crucial one. Eating a nutritionally dense diet full of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, proteins, and carbs paired with a walk or yoga session every day will do wonders for your attitude and energy levels. By eating consistent healthy meals you can maintain consistent energy levels without experiencing spikes and crashes.

Join a support group

Even your most trusted friends and family may not understand everything about your situation. An in-person or online support group can give you an understanding ear that only someone who has been in your shoes before can offer.

Take deep breaths

When you feel your emotions spiking or stress levels rising, sit down for five minutes and focus on your breathing. Breathe in for five seconds, hold it for five seconds, and release your breath for five seconds. Repeat until you feel your heart rate calming down.

Seek and accept help

Here are some ideas of places you can look for help: adult daycare facilities, nursing homes, home health services, caregiver support agencies such as the California Caregiver Resource Center nearest to you, national organizations, and local nonprofits and churches.

Talk to a doctor

If you feel that you are already dealing with emotions that are overwhelming or a level of stress or depression, talk to a doctor. They can offer coping mechanisms, advice, referrals, or assistance to help you be kind to your mind.

Closing Thoughts

Looking after yourself isn’t selfish, it’s essential to providing the highest quality of care possible. If you feel overwhelmed or like you could use a bit of support, CRC is here for you. Eleven nonprofit Caregiver Resource Centers (CRCs) throughout the state of California each year serve hundreds of families and caregivers of adults affected by chronic health conditions. Click here to find your local center.

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