Self-Care for the Caregiver

November 17, 2011

I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the people who read this blog are remarkable caregivers, and I have been thinking about all of you this week. The thing about being a great caregiver is that it is a quality that is universally liked by those who are being cared for, but sometimes they’ve been cared for for so long that they don’t thank you quite as much as they should.


image by by Balaji.B

Can you envision one person in your life that gives to you unconditionally and thanklessly and never asks for anything in return? It’s probably time to tell them how much they mean to you.

Are you that person? Do you ever stop and take care of yourself? Not as often as you should? Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.

The thing about being a great caregiver is that when taking care of others becomes and integral part of your personality, deciding to put yourself first just once feels very foreign and selfish. The thing about being a great caregiver is that if you don’t stop and pay attention to your own needs every once and a while, you can start feeling resentful bit by bit, until one day you just explode.

The reality is that it is EXHAUSTING taking care of people all the time, as many of you know, and all of that exhaustion and feeling as though you really should takes its toll after a little while. It can turn into compassion fatigue. Over time, it can make you angry at everyone that you know.

Luckily, just like most things, each and every day is a day to turn it all around, and remind yourself that you deserve taking care of too.

  1. Evaluate your ability to care for others on any given day. Don’t assume that just because you’ve always done something that you HAVE to do it again. This is all about setting positive boundaries and learning how to say no. Are you piling things onto your plate that no one even asked you to take care of? Sometimes it’s about learning how to say no to yourself.
  2. Think about the things that make you feel the most taken care of. Compile a master list of all of your favorite things. What makes you feel truly happy and loved? Put it on the list. Keep the list handy, and pick something off of it on regular intervals. Don’t feel as though taking care of yourself as a treat, instead reframe caring for yourself as something integral to your daily life, just like eating or sleeping or breathing. 
  3. Get to know yourself very well. Pay attention to your triggers, and pay attention to what happens when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Do you start snapping at your loved ones? Do you begin feeling lethargic and hopeless? Do you find yourself bogged down by thinking that nothing you do will ever be enough? The better you know yourself, the better you will know how to take a break and take care of yourself to stave off a meltdown.
  4. Learn how to share responsibility. This is really crucial, as much as a loathe to say it, so I’m going to say it again: Learn how to share responsibility. Tell other people what you expect from them, and then trust that they are going to follow through. I am really, horribly bad at this. I am one of those people affectionately referred to as a control freak, but you know what? This is really important, and as terrible as it feels – knowing that you can trust the people around you to help you out is kind of magical.
  5. Determine what your baseline is. In addition to your self-care list, make a list about those things that are your absolute bare minimum needs to function optimally. This can include the hours of sleep you need a night, a certain type of eating, an amount of regular exercise, or an amount of sex that you desire, the possibilities are endless. Ultimately, if you aren’t covering your bare minimum, you aren’t in a position to take care of anyone else.

Oh Marzipan, but I don’t have the tiiiiiiiiime to do all of those things or well, gee, that sounds awesome, but it just doesn’t fit into my schedule. I hear you. I am an extremely busy person myself, and most days I barely feel like I have the time to brush my teeth. The reality is that if you hit burnout, you will not be useful to anyone, including yourself, and that putting some extra time in to take care of yourself is going to benefit everyone in your family/friend/professional system.

Make a date with yourself.

Put it in your calendar.

Hold one another accountable.

Learn that asking for your needs is a good thing.

I have the utmost faith in you, and I really think you deserve it.