Let’s face it. Self-care even under the best circumstances can be a challenge. If you are a caregiver, self-care during the COVID-19 pandemic can feel impossible to achieve. But it’s more important than ever, especially as the caregiving industry grows and evolves.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- 1. Think About Your Barriers
- 2. Try Some Stress Reduction Techniques
- 3. Prioritize Your Personal Health
- 4. Start Eating Well
- 5. Sleep Well
- 6. Check On Your Emotional Support and Well-Being
- 7. Take Time Off
- 8. Join a Support Group and Stay Connected
- 9. Set Goals
Caregivers can experience some fairly high-stress levels due to the nature of caregiving. Some of the stressors they experience can include things like the energy it takes to care for someone, the financial drain of caregiving, a lack of support, finding time for yourself, job loss, and competing family responsibilities—and it is not limited to just these stressors. According to AARP, caregivers can have a higher incidence of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
Taking care of yourself is the foundation of good caregiving. If you are exhausted or sick, you can have difficulty meeting your obligations and threaten your own long term health. If you’re feeling burned out, we’ve listed some suggestions on how to break the cycle of stress. It’s important to note that you don’t have to do all of these at once. Think about them and pick a few that resonate with you to increase some self-awareness and care toward yourself.
1. Think About Your Barriers
Most caregivers would probably answer right away and say “time!” There are probably others as well and it is important to identify what is holding you back from taking care of yourself. Some possibilities that you may not have thought about are the following:
- Shame and guilt. Since there is never enough time to do everything you need to do, the idea of taking care of yourself seems self-indulgent. The time you take for yourself is an investment in you. If you don’t do it, no one else will.
- Difficulty asking for help. We will discuss this in more detail, but many caregivers are doing it all (and feel like they are the only ones that can) and hate to impose on others for help.
- Not knowing about resources. There are plenty of local and national resources to help you. Some even provide respite. Others help with hands-on instruction for caregiving tasks.
- What will others think? If you take time for yourself, are you afraid you will be judged as being an inadequate caregiver by friends and family?
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2. Try Some Stress Reduction Techniques
The great thing about stress reduction techniques is that a little goes a long way. This means that most of these suggestions give a lot of benefits with a small time commitment.
- Meditation and deep breathing. Whether it is through meditation, prayer, or progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure. Deep breathing can be done at any time of day when you are feeling stressed or anxious.
- Yoga or stretching. Many people may be intimidated by yoga, especially when you look at all those complex and challenging poses. However, some simple poses and additional stretching can be done throughout the day. Even a few minutes of stretching, and deep breathing can make a world of difference. There are many free yoga apps and videos online to help you get started.
- Music. Music can soothe the soul. Whether you start your day with some soft classical or get pumped up for your daily tasks, music can help. Use earbuds if you can to block out distractions and give yourself some mental “me” time.
3. Prioritize Your Personal Health
Caregivers often put aside their health in the service of others. Though you may be focused on helping others, don’t forget the basics for your own health and safety.
- Take care of your preventative health. It may be tempting to put off those doctor’s visits, but try and adhere to your regular appointments. This includes mammograms, colonoscopies, vision appointments, flu and pneumonia shots, and any other visits relevant to your health concerns.
- Take notice of unusual problems. These might include high blood pressure, chest pain, or blood sugar irregularities. It can be easy to overlook nagging health problems when you are caregiving. If you notice something, talk to your doctor.
- Exercise. Exercise has been shown over and over again to have positive effects on mood, blood pressure, and memory. Exercise can be one of the hardest habits to form, but any activity during the day is better than none. Gardening, walking, house cleaning, swimming, yoga, and dancing are all activities that count. Even starting with 10 minutes a day can be beneficial.
4. Start Eating Well
Good nutrition seems to be one of the first good habits to fly out the door when we are stressed. Proper eating, however, provides the fuel for everything else to work well. Deciding what to eat can be very confusing since new information about what is good for us and what isn’t seems to change daily.
Start with the basics. But, check with your doctor for any precautions before starting to change your diet. Don’t forget to stay well-hydrated too.
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5. Sleep Well
Good sleep refreshes the mind and body and prepares you for the day. If you are caring for someone who disrupts your sleep during the night, this can be very challenging. Talk to your loved one’s doctor for any tips on improving sleep for the person you are caring for.
If poor sleep is related to your stress, strain, and worry of caregiving, consider these sleep hygiene tips
6. Check On Your Emotional Support and Well-Being
You are not alone although you may feel like it. Reaching out for support from friends and family can improve your mood and reduce stress.
There may come a time when you decide to get professional or additional help. You could work with a personal care agency to provide caregivers for a few hours a day. Even help one or two days a week can give you much-needed rest.
You may also consider respite care through what is referred to as Adult Day Programs. These are programs that your loved one can attend at a separate location for the day. Activities, meals, and companionship are provided for a reasonable fee.
If you suspect you may have depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor who can screen you for these treatable conditions. They may recommend medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
7. Take Time Off
Let’s talk about the reality of both sides of taking time off. First, there is taking time off from employment to care for someone. Secondly, there is the issue of taking time off for yourself as a caregiver.
Caregiving disproportionately affects women, many who are trying to work while holding their families together. AARP estimates that of the 41 million caregivers, six out of 10 are doing so while trying to work. Trying to keep your job or trying to get back into the workforce can be very challenging. It is important to know the resources available as a caregiver to help you manage work and caregiving responsibilities.
Taking time off for yourself is a critical self-care goal. It is normal to feel guilty but think of it as one of the building blocks of health and well being. Ideas worth trying are a spa treatment, a massage, a special night out for dinner, or another personal treat. It can also be something as simple as taking a walk to the park to look at the flowers.
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8. Join a Support Group and Stay Connected
Online support groups are an amazing way to feel support and connection. There are hundreds of online forums, chat groups, and hands-on videos on everything from safe transfers to wound care. If you learn better offline, consider getting some books on caregiving and talk about it with others in the group when you’re done.
Support groups give you a chance to view things from a different perspective and offer the same to others in return. Groups also reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
9. Set Goals
It can be overwhelming to think about adding self-care to an already busy day. One way to get started is to try setting small, achievable goals. That way you will feel you feel like you have made some progress. Any progress is worth the effort.
Of all the pressure you feel during the day, it is important not to pressure yourself about self-care, but rather to be mindful about setting goals. Goals will help you feel in control of your life and give you focus and direction.
Some people like to set alerts on their phones as a reminder to take a break or do some deep breathing. Other people prefer keeping a journal of things they want to accomplish. Use whatever method works best for you to keep on track.
Self-Care Makes You a Better Caregiver
Self-care is a tall order for anyone. When you are a caregiver it can seem insurmountable to add more tasks to what seems like an endless day.
It can be helpful to think of yourself as the hub of the wheel whose strength is necessary to make things go smoothly. Acknowledge and honor your sacrifice, hard work, and compassionate care by taking care of yourself. You will be glad that you did.
- “Caregiver Burnout: Steps for Coping with Stress.” AARP. 21 October 2019. www.aarp.org/caregiving/ilfe-balance/info-2019-caregiver-stress-burnout.html
- “Caregiving While Working.” AARP. 19, November 2019. www.aarp.org/caregiving/life-balance/info-2019/working-caregiving-tips.html.