Why Caregivers Need Care, Too

February 15, 2022

Caregivers are essential for meeting the needs of those who cannot completely care for themselves. But an all-too-common dynamic is for caregivers’ lives to become so focused on the people they’re caring for that they stop taking care of themselves.

Why Is It Important to Take Care of Yourself?

As a caregiver, you recognize that the person you’re caring for has human needs that need to be consistently kept up with, yet it’s likely that you have stopped taking care of your own. You may have relegated yourself to a second tier, only caring for yourself if you have the time or energy. But caregivers need to take care of themselves too.

Between the stress of caregiving and neglecting yourself, you can develop a range of mental and physical health problems. Caregiver stress itself can negatively affect you by impacting your sleep and weight, making you feel overwhelmed and alone, giving you feelings of irritation or worry, and other symptoms. Long-term, you can experience problems like weight gain, attention and memory problems, a weakened immune system, mental health concerns, and risk of chronic diseases like heart disease or arthritis.

Neglecting yourself can also lead to a host of problems. For instance, if you don’t take care of your teeth or go to the dentist, you may develop cavities and gum disease. If you don’t eat well, you might gain weight and feel sluggish. You may not have positive coping strategies in your life, like spending enjoyable time with others, and you may instead turn to unhealthy ones like substance use and abuse.

Challenges for Caregivers

While the other person’s needs may seem more important and a higher priority now, failing to take care of yourself causes you to develop your own health problems. Not only will this become a problem for you down the line, but you’ll also affect others. You’ll have a harder time providing quality care to the person, you may become resentful and irritated with them, and you may even need caregiving from another person if your own health goes downhill.

We understand that it’s hard to put aside the other person’s needs to take care of your own. It may seem as though the other person’s needs are more important than your own at this moment. You may figure that you can take care of yourself at some future point in time. Also, it’s likely that you feel guilty if you spend time on self-care.

During those moments, you might think that you could or should be doing more for the person instead of being selfish. But self-care is not selfish. It’s what keeps your batteries charged so you can be a better caregiver and keep up with everything that’s on your plate. Also, it’s what helps with your health and wellness. You can’t put your own needs off forever.

Self Care for Caregivers

It’s important to recognize when the caregiver needs care. Take a look at your life and see if there are signs of caregiver stress and self-neglect. Try to get a handle on the situation as soon as possible. Find actionable ways to improve your situation and take care of yourself. Here are some ideas:

  • Seek out others for respite time, help with groceries, or other support; this could come from family members, friends, hired caregivers, community programs like adult daycare or Meals on Wheels, volunteers, or hospice respite programs
  • Try stress-relieving techniques such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, spending time in nature, talking to friends, watching comedy, taking a bath or whatever works for you
  • Find small moments of time for yourself, taking five minutes for deep breathing, 10 minutes for exercise, and so on, to include self-care throughout the day
  • Try activities you enjoy with the person you’re caring for so that you can incorporate your own interests into the caregiving day; for instance, maybe you could play a show or movie you enjoy for the person
  • Take advantage of caregiver resources and support, such as caregiver classes, caregiver support groups, and the Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Focus on your health through doctor’s appointments, increased healthy eating, and exercise, social support, and other wellness activities