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Prioritizing Yourself as a Caregiver: How and Why You Should Take Care of Yourself Too

As a caregiver, you know all too well how hard it is to say “no” to requests that you know are needed. So when someone asks for something, your tendency is probably to always say yes and handle it for them. While it’s true that the loved one in your care has needs, so do you. You cannot expect yourself to be an infinite resource. If you do, you will quickly run the risk of burnout, anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, and more. The line may feel gray, but it’s important to draw one in the sand and set boundaries to prioritize yourself as a caregiver. In this article, we’re going to talk about how to do just that. Let’s dive in.

Why it’s important to prioritize yourself 

As we touched on, avoiding self care is a recipe for caregiver burnout, anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, worsening health outcomes for yourself, and more. If you don’t prioritize yourself as a family caregiver, it’s also not just you who suffers. Over time, the quality of your care will naturally begin to slip. But you probably don’t need us to tell you that. If you’re like most caregivers, you may feel all-consumed by the work you’re doing for your loved one. As such, it may feel inconceivable to take time away to care for yourself. 

For many, it feels as though “take care of yourself“ is something you hear all the time. But if you’re honest, you can’t imagine actually putting into practice yourself. But it’s time to think of it as a non-negotiable part of providing care. Let’s talk about how to add it to your routine.

The pressure caregivers face

One of the main reasons caregivers feel as though they have no opportunity to reduce their workload is that there is a lot of pressure on them. People around expect you to handle the things you always have (and new/related things as they come up). 

Here’s the reality of what caregivers are facing today:

  • 82% of family caregivers manage medications (many of which have complex administration instructions, like injections for example)

  • 48% are responsible for preparing special diets

  • A little over half (51%) of caregivers assist with canes, walkers or other mobility devices

  • Over a third (37%) deal with wound care

  • About 30% of caregivers manage incontinence

All of this with little to no training and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Source). These types of tasks placed on the shoulders of untrained family caregivers create a heavy burden and fear of making a mistake. This fear compounds the already complicated emotions caregivers face on a daily basis.

If you can relate, it’s important to recognize that you’re not alone. Half of American family caregivers perform medical tasks (around 20 million Americans) that they are not trained to do. But that does not mean you’re doing a bad job or don’t deserve a break. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite.

How to Prioritize Yourself as a Family Caregiver

As we’ve touched on, family caregiving puts a lot of stress on you. You can probably already sense that. But you may not recognize that it can also lead to chronic illness in yourself if your stress continues unchecked. Here are some ways to manage your stress as a caregiver:

Be nice to yourself

Caregiving is hard work. It’s also not a job you were trained for or born knowing how to do. So it’s OK not to know everything, to ask questions, or to need a break.

Recognize the good you do

It’s important to pause and reflect on all the good things you’re doing for your loved one. Think of the needs that you help them meet, the life you help them live, and the sacrifices you make to make it all possible. Don’t let those slip by unnoticed. They are significant contributions for the benefit of another and deserve to be treated as such.

Ask for help

If you’re asked to handle a medical task you’re not familiar with, don’t be afraid to ask your loved one’s medical care team to show you how to do it. Many medical care teams assume a nurse is coming and going, so don’t be afraid to tell them if there’s no one else coming. On a similar token, help can come from friends and professionals too. If you’re finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning, hard to keep up your routines, hard to eat healthy, hard to keep in touch with family and friends, etc. these are all signs that it’s time for you to take a break. 

Whether you ask a loved one to help you with the care responsibilities, look into adult daycare services, or hire professional respite care, there are options to help you get a much-deserved break.

Join a support group

Gathering with other people who understand what you’re going through and have gone through it themselves can be a hugely underrated place to access a wealth of information-sharing, understanding and commiserating allies, and a source of the encouragement that you may need. Most family caregivers don’t have many people in their lives who can relate to their experience. Caregiver support groups are a great place to find those people.

Let loose and have fun

Let yourself indulge in the things that make you happy and light your spirit up. Whether that’s meditating, walking, getting coffee with a friend, reading a book, painting your nails, watching a movie, going out to eat, singing in the car, taking a long shower or bath, or hopping on the phone with someone you care about, don’t be afraid to let yourself indulge in the things that bring you joy.

Closing Thoughts

It’s important to prioritize yourself as a family caregiver to protect both your health and your loved one’s. The California Caregiver Resource Center of Orange County is here to provide assistance and guidance to help you do that. Check out our library of resources to help you navigate this experience. Together, we can navigate the healthcare landscape and help you provide the best possible care for your loved one(s).

Further Reading: Navigating Resentment as a Caregiver

Caregiver resentment is a common emotional challenge that family caregivers face, way more often than they may admit (so you’re not alone in this even if it feels like it). Your resentment is natural, but it doesn't have to define your caregiving experience. In the end, finding balance and support is the key to a sustainable and fulfilling caregiving journey. So let’s talk about it: dive in here.


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