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6 self-care tips for caregivers

September 7, 2022 - 14 min read

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What is caregiver burnout?

Taking time for yourself is still a priority

How to juggle between providing care and working

How to take care of yourself when you’re a caregiver

Don’t be too hard on yourself

What can you change?

You’re not alone

Some people have the idea that self-care is a cakewalk. Put on a face mask, turn on our favorite tunes, and boom, we’re practicing self-care. 

But some people really struggle with putting themselves first because they’re so used to being caregivers for others. Self-care for caregivers is tough to accomplish.

Even if we love caring for a loved one or family member, we can’t forget that we should all value and prioritize our own health and well-being. We might lose touch with how best to take care of our mental health, potentially leading to burnout. We might even feel guilty when we set aside time for ourselves.

We can’t snap our fingers and have a flawless self-care routine. It takes time, effort, and dedication. At BetterUp, our coaches are here to show you how to accept your feelings and learn how to put your own needs first.

 

What is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout happens when caregiving responsibilities become too much to handle. They may begin to consume all your time and energy, making you feel emotionally exhausted from constantly putting on a happy face or repressing your own feelings. And apart from the mental health demands of being a caregiver, the physical demands can take a toll. Depending on how much support someone needs, something like constantly pushing a wheelchair might begin to hurt your back.

Just as you identify signs of burnout at work, you can also identify signs of burnout as a caregiver, which is a full-time job. This is especially true if the person you’re caring for suffers from a chronic condition, including heart disease, mobility issues, or Alzheimer’s.

But caregiver stress and burnout don’t only happen to people who do both full-time. It can happen to people with part-time jobs or who only see the person they care for periodically. No caregiver is excluded from feelings of burnout or exhaustion, regardless of the situation.

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Taking time for yourself is still a priority

Do you dive head first into what you’re passionate about? Being a caregiver might be meaningful to you, but it doesn’t always leave you healthy and fulfilled. In fact, it might lead you to neglect your own needs and dreams. Your own needs are on the back burner when you want to do your best while caring for someone else. 

Research has even shown that family caregivers struggle with promoting their health. They struggle to put themselves first since they’re so used to doing the opposite. 

But self-care should always be a top priority for caregivers. When you neglect your self-care, it harms your mental and physical health. And when you aren’t at your best, you can’t give your best care. You’d be in a better condition to provide care and attention to your loved ones. You wouldn’t be dealing with caregiver fatigue, either.

It might seem difficult at first, but you can choose yourself. You can either do this by taking bereavement leave to properly grieve and take care of yourself or by scheduling time for your own medical appointments. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, as long as you prioritize yourself. If you’re a family caregiver, haven’t you wondered if your family member wants to see you thrive, too? 

It might be difficult to change things up after being in a set routine that doesn’t choose yourself. At BetterUp, our coaches are here to help you create strategies that prioritize self-care while still upholding your caregiving responsibilities.

How to juggle between providing care and working

Rather than hide the fact that you’re a family caregiver or that you help others, it’s best to be open about it with your workplace. That way, your bosses and team members know you have another serious commitment. It allows for a straightforward discussion regarding work flexibility or paid leave to provide care.

It also makes it more comfortable for you to ask for help. Don’t ask for help at the end of your rope. You should feel comfortable enough to ask for help before you’re exhausted or when your work-life balance is long gone. Stay connected with your friends, support system, and managers. They can’t read your mind, so let them know how you feel.

Juggling your caregiving and work responsibilities might seem hectic. When you feel scrambled, try some mindfulness activities to center yourself. Make sure you stay organized with tools like a notebook or calendar. Remember that you aren’t perfect. Nobody is. You can only do your best and set realistic goals for yourself to achieve.

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How to take care of yourself when you’re a caregiver

It’s time to talk about putting these self-care practices into motion. But to warn you, upholding self-care practices will take some Mental Fitness. You must hold yourself accountable, be resilient, and welcome daily growth. It’s not easy, but making moves to benefit your future is worth it.

Besides, it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. What might be an amazing way of practicing self-care for you might not work for others. Focus on what works for you.

To give you a better idea of what these practices look like, here are six self-care tips to review:

  1. Practice deep breathing exercises at the end of the day and whenever you feel stressed 
  2. Consume a healthy diet that fuels your body and fills you with energy
  3. Unplug from technology and take time to tune into your emotions
  4. Incorporate practices, including yoga or meditation, into your routine that connect your mind and body
  5. Create a relaxing nightly routine to get enough sleep
  6. Make time for hobbies or side hustles that fill your life with purpose

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Don’t be too hard on yourself

When you make time for self-care, you might feel guilty about it. Although you know what’s best for your own health and how to improve your caregiving abilities, guilt still creeps in. Guilt overwhelms you because you’re prioritizing your needs for once.

But where are these feelings of being hard on yourself coming from? It’s because you’re striving for perfection when perfection is unrealistic. Guilt is known as an unconstructive emotion that wastes your energy. It causes you to feel pressured to act when you see that progress is being made.

You might feel guilty for not being there to support someone enough even though you know that you can’t be there every second of the day.

Whether they’re family members or friends, caring for someone is challenging. It’s another reason why self-care and self-compassion are invaluable. It’s common to have compassion or empathy fatigue, so make sure you’re mindful of your efforts. Don’t be afraid to take time off.

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Being hard on yourself makes room for more negative self-talk than positive talk. Speak kindly to yourself and know you’re striving to do your best. Perfection isn’t real.

What can you change?

Whether you like it or not, change happens and will continue to occur through every stage of your life. But you can’t change everything. Knowing the difference between what’s changeable and what isn’t is key. And you can’t control everything.

Perhaps the person you’re caring for has serious physical health problems that you can’t change or drastically improve, or maybe you take care of your aging parents and young children, but you can’t change that situation. 

But your self-care routine is subject to change, and so is your attitude. Maybe until now, you’ve felt selfish for taking any time for yourself. Understanding that your health and well-being deserve to be a priority and creating plans to put yourself first will change those feelings. You’ll learn to reduce caregiver stress and avoid burnout. 

It takes action and hard work to make this happen — not to mention courage and resilience. Initially, you might be worried about stirring things up, but keep in mind that you’re investing in your own future wellness.

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You’re not alone

Self-care for caregivers isn’t easy, just like it’s not easy to be a caregiver, period. It’s normal to feel all sorts of emotions, so you also must practice self-acceptance. Strengthen your self-awareness and accept your emotions rather than deny them. Accept when you have mental fatigue or need to take a break. And when you do that, remember that you aren’t alone in what you’re feeling or experiencing.

According to Gallup, caregivers represent 16% of Americans working full-time — and we know some caregivers have other jobs. But caregivers are 49% more likely to be diagnosed with depression and experience more worries and stress than people who aren’t. Those numbers hardly suggest that caregiver burnout is rare.

Keep in mind that others feel this way. Don’t hesitate to reach out to support groups. Caregiver support groups might help you feel connected to others who share similar experiences and teach you how to recover from burnout.

You might find that speaking to healthcare professionals for medical advice is what you need. Your friends and family cannot always provide proper support, which is where a mental health professional comes into the picture.

However you take care of someone, never forget that your health and wellness should always be cared for.

You don’t have to take your journey of self-care alone. If you need help finding strategies that work for you or how to create a work-life balance that fulfills all your needs, consider meeting with a BetterUp coach.  As you learn to put yourself first, our coaches will be your biggest cheerleaders.

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Published September 7, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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