Family caregivers often hear they must avoid burnout by taking care of themselves, but prioritizing health and happiness is easier said than done when a caregiver is juggling competing priorities.
Self-care for a caregiver also looks different than it does for other people. In addition to adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise, caregiver self-care also includes setting boundaries, asking for help, and learning to relinquish control.
Before a caregiver can begin a journey of self-care discovery, they must first adopt a healthy mindset and create more time.
Changing the mindset
The default caregiver mindset is to do everything for a loved one while neglecting personal needs. While this strategy may be effective for a short-term caregiving crisis, it is not sustainable. Running on energy fumes eventually damages a caregiver’s physical and mental health and widens the circle of care to eventually include the family caregiver.
When a caregiver takes care of their health and happiness first, dividends are realized for the entire care team.
Making the time
Time for self-care cannot be found, it must be intentionally created. A caregiver can make time for personal well-being by taking four steps.
Record. Create a record of how time is currently spent. Draw a table with seven columns, one for each day of the week. Make three large rows for morning, afternoon, and evening. Document typical weekly activities including work, sleep, cooking, housekeeping, personal care, and caregiving.
Assess. Reflect on the current routine. Is there enough time for sleep? Is time spent on activities of value? Highlight current self-care activities.
Reclaim. Identify activities where others can help. What activities can someone do from a distance? Are there activities which can be eliminated? Could errands be consolidated with meal planning and preparation? Reassign several responsibilities to others.
Act. With the newly created time, add activities to energize the mind, body, and spirit. Try new activities or recall the ones that have brought joy in the past. Schedule self-care appointments and keep these commitments as if they were external doctor’s appointments.
Maximize drive and meeting time by connecting with a friend or listening to an uplifting podcast.
Phone or small in-person meetings are an opportunity for an outdoor “walk-n-talk.”
With headspace ready and the calendar scheduled with self-care activities, the invested time will compound. For the next 30 days, keep the new self-care routine and realize the benefits to your health, happiness, and relationships.
Elizabeth Miller is a family caregiver and Certified Caregiving Consultant. Elizabeth’s personal experiences caring for aging parents with chronic and terminal illnesses as well as caring for a sibling with developmental disabilities inspired her to create Happy Healthy Caregiver. Through her consulting services, podcast, book, and online community, Elizabeth helps family caregivers integrate caregiving and self-care with their busy lives.