Self-Care for Caregivers
By Whitney Stohr
There is no doubt about it — Caregiving is hard work!
Caregiving requires significant effort. It may seem like there are constant demands — more appointments to schedule, phone calls to make, paperwork to complete. You may feel like you are always “on.” Certainly, caregiving can often lead to feelings of being overstressed, overwhelmed and exhausted.
Caregiving really is stressful, and, as a family caregiver, you are not alone in those feelings.
Caregiver fatigue is “a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion” related to caregiving, which can lead to burnout, anxiety and depression. The Cleveland Clinic describes symptoms of caregiver burnout, including: emotional and physical exhaustion, irritability, feeling hopeless or helpless, withdrawal from friends and family members, or loss of interest in favorite activities. (For more information, visit tinyurl.com/2uh8nufz.)
As family caregivers, if we know that we are at risk of experiencing Caregiver Fatigue, what can we do to prevent ourselves from falling into this state of exhaustion? How can you prevent burnout?
This is why concepts such as self-care, or caregiver wellness, are so important.
At the most basic level, “self-care” simply means taking care of yourself. It means focusing on your personal needs and making sure that you are doing what you need to do to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. You simply cannot effectively care for another person if you do not also take care of yourself.
Carving out time for yourself during the day is important! This might include a short break from caregiving that allows you to run errands on your own, or one hour each week that you reserve for a session with a family counselor or therapist. Your self-care moment might even be the first twenty minutes of your day, when you are able to sit alone in your kitchen and drink a cup of coffee in the quiet of the morning.
Listed below are other ideas for self-care, organized into three important categories: Physical Self-Care, Mental Self-Care, and Soul-Filling Self-Care.
Physical Self-Care: Taking care of your physical self
Schedule a 10- or 20-minute solo walk outdoors, 2 or 3 times each week
Incorporate light repetitions with a pair of hand-weights into your morning routine
Focus on nutrition — What does “healthy eating” look like for you?
Find a skincare routine that is mood-changing and rejuvenating
Give yourself a bedtime — Sleep is essential!
Mental Self-Care: Supporting your mental and emotional wellbeing
Soul-Filling Self-Care: Refueling your soul through interests and activities that bring you joy
Catch up with an old friend over a cup of coffee
Rekindle your interest in a favorite hobby
Volunteer once each month to support a cause that is meaningful to you
Remember how you used to play — Dance, sing, draw, shoot hoops, etc.
Prioritize time for prayer or a weekly religious service, yoga or meditation
A Guide to Caregiver Self-Care — Rutgers Health University (2019)
Caregiver Self-Care Activity Book — VA Caregiver Support
Creating a Self-Care Plan — Northern Kentucky University
Self-Care Assessment & Daily Attention Diary — VA Caregiver Support
Self-Care Exercises and Activities — University of Buffalo
Whitney Stohr is a Parent to Parent Coordinator at The Arc of Snohomish County. She is passionate about advocating for medically complex children and children with disabilities and their families. She is a mom and medical caregiver herself, who is energized by working closely with other parent/family caregivers. She lives with her three-year-old son Malachi and husband Jason in Lynnwood. (Article originally published in November 2021.)