Being the best caregiver starts with caring for yourself

Caring for someone is about more than measuring medicine and making meals — it’s also about focusing on our emotional needs so we can offer the best of ourselves.

  • Caregiver self-care is often overlooked, but it’s a crucial part of the caregiving process.
  • Providence St. Joseph Health and the Institute for Human Caring can provide resources and support for caregivers.
  • Get tips on self-care for the caregiver.

[3 MIN READ]

When Ira Byock, M.D., founder of the Institute for Human Caring at Providence St. Joseph Health, was still in his medical residency, he learned his father had incurable pancreatic cancer. The shocking diagnosis meant there would be months of treatments and tough decisions, sadness and pain.

As Dr. Byock reflects on this challenging time, he acknowledges that the last months of his father’s life were also filled with invaluable memories that he may have overlooked if he hadn’t taken the time to take care of himself while caring for his father.

As caregivers, it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks such as meals, medicine, health checks, decisions and transportation. We often don’t spend the time we need to take care of ourselves and — perhaps more importantly — our relationships. We can become run-down, which limits our ability to be present and find enjoyment in little moments throughout the process, no matter how fleeting they may seem.

Focusing on self-care as a caregiver

It can be difficult to justify time for self-care when you’re caring for a sick loved one. But focusing on your own emotional health can have a positive impact on everyone around you.

“Illness is personal, it’s not just medical…people (patients and caregivers) are whole persons who have relationships, social lives, spiritual senses and connections to the community,” says Dr. Byock.

“Illness is personal, it’s not just medical…people (patients and caregivers) are whole persons who have relationships, social lives, spiritual senses and connections to the community,” says Dr. Byock.

Using these self-care techniques can help you and your family members find strength in a challenging time.

Make it a priority

If you’re caring for someone, you may have such a long to-do list filled with appointments and tasks that is seems impossible to fit anything else in. But, just as you would schedule a meal time for a loved one, put your self-care on the calendar as a non-negotiable. Set an alarm on your phone, or plan to take just 10 minutes to yourself first thing in the morning.

Share memories

Caregiving should be about more than measuring medicine and cooking meals. When we look back on our time with loved ones, do we want to remember the medical staff and physical ailments? 

Take time to have conversations with the person you’re caring for. Share memories with each other. Ask your loved one to tell you a story from their life. These moments can serve everyone’s emotional needs and help frame more positive memories of your time together.

Ask for help

It’s easy to get overwhelmed as a caregiver. Before you feel the pressure build, stop and think about ways others can chip in and help. It can be as simple as picking up groceries or dropping the kids off at school. Giving yourself some breathing room can make a big difference in your mental health.

It can be hard to find enough time in the day to tackle all the tasks of a caregiver, so be realistic about what you can achieve. Make to-do lists and prioritize essential items, but don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t complete everything you set out to do.

Do a little at a time

It can be hard to find enough time in the day to tackle all the tasks of a caregiver, so be realistic about what you can achieve. Make to-do lists and prioritize essential items, but don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t complete everything you set out to do. And don’t be afraid to say “no” to large requests from friends or family — keeping your tasks small and manageable will help you stay centered. 

Maintain a healthy routine

Exercise, diet and sleep all play critical roles in our mental health. It may seem like another item on the to-do list, but these healthy habits are crucial as we care for others.

  • Try to make time to exercise throughout the week, even if it’s only a walk around the block. 
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains. Avoid fast food, prepared meals and sugar. If you need help, ask a friend to help make healthy meals for you and your family.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Most adults need between seven and nine hours a night to refresh their brains and bodies.

Take a few moments for yourself

Try to find some time each day to spend on something just for you. Read a book in your favorite chair, visit the park or enjoy a cup of tea on the back porch. Whatever your “me time” is, it can help you reset and recharge, so you feel stronger as you face the day’s challenges.

Connect with others

Maintaining relationships with friends and family members can help provide emotional support while you’re caregiving. Make regular coffee dates with friends or arrange for family dinners once a week. You may also want to join a caregiver support group where you can lean on other individuals who are facing similar challenges.

Give thanks, forgive and say “I love you”

Think of your caregiving as time well-spent with your loved one — it’s a gift some families don’t get. It’s also a good opportunity to give thanks, forgive and, most importantly, say, “I love you.” Taking time to be honest with one another and focus on your relationship can help relieve anxiety and provide closure during a difficult time.

Find support

Remember that you never have to face caregiving alone. Seeking support from friends, family and support groups can help lift some of the emotional burden you may feel. The Institute for Human Caring provides resources and tools to help you better communicate with and care for your loved one.

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Find a doctor

Reaching out to your own doctor or mental health professional can also help provide answers to questions and concerns you may have. You can find a Providence doctor using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

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#Caregiving is about more than measuring medicine and making medical appointments Learn how to better care for you and your loved ones’ emotional and mental health. #aging

 

Regional resources

Washington: Senior Care

Institute for Human Caring

 

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

 

 

About the Author

From how to identify and treat heart diseases to exercise tips to maintain an active lifestyle, the Providence Senior's Health team is committed to providing real-world advice that is hyper-relevant to helping those 65+ find ways stay young at heart

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