Taking Care of Yourself While Caring for Others

By Stephanie Jensen, RN

Caregivers are unsung heroes whose dedication, selflessness, and compassion often go unnoticed. Being a caregiver shows strength in character. Caregivers help with someone’s basic daily needs, which include social, physical, and/or health needs. This involves providing physical and emotional support for long-term issues, such as illness or disability, or short-term issues, such as recovery from surgery or injury. It takes resilience, strength, and empathy to be a caregiver.

Who gets the title of caregiver?

Caregivers can be hired help or can be people who don’t get paid, like family members or friends. The people who don’t get paid (informal caregivers) play a big role in taking care of others at home. In the U.S., many middle-aged and older adults provide a lot of this care, often looking after adult children, elderly parents, spouses, family members, neighbors, or friends.

What type of care is provided?

Caregivers provide a range of help and care to those in need. Some examples include:

  • Personal care: Helping with everyday tasks like getting out of bed, taking showers, getting dressed, brushing hair, using the bathroom, eating, and moving around.
  • Household chores: Cleaning the house, working in the yard, shopping for groceries, doing the laundry, and other household tasks.
  • Meals: Buying food and making healthy meals to eat.
  • Money management: Paying bills and filling out forms for things like health insurance.
  • Health care: Help with many aspects of staying healthy. This can include taking medications, taking care of wounds, using medical equipment, and doing exercises to stay fit.
  • Transportation: Help to go places, like getting a ride to the doctor’s office or the grocery store.
  • Safety: Includes making sure the home is safe and getting help in case there is a fall or other emergency.

The importance of self-care

Helping others can be rewarding, but it’s not always easy. Being a caregiver can be exhausting, so it’s important to take breaks so you can do an even better job of taking care of someone else. Remember to acknowledge all the things you’re doing, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Your efforts as a caregiver really matter and make a positive impact on someone else’s life. But if you get too tired, it can harm your health and make it harder to take care of the person or people you’re looking after.

Simple ways to take care of yourself

  • Get enough sleep: Even going to bed an extra half an hour earlier will make a difference.
  • Make time for exercise: A short walk outside or a yoga class will do wonders to lower stress levels, give yourself a mental break, and give you more energy.
  • Take time for yourself: Try to take time to maintain your personal admin, interests or hobbies. Try not to let caregiving consume your whole life. Balance is the key.
  • Take breaks: Short breaks, like a quick walk or shower, are beneficial. Longer breaks are even better, like a relaxing bath or weekend getaway.
  • Set boundaries for yourself: Allow imperfection. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and allow for mistakes. Nobody is perfect, and nobody expects you to be. Give some tasks to other reliable people. You don’t have to do it all yourself.
  • Connect with friends: Try to connect with friends at least once a week. Whether it is just a phone call or going for a quick coffee, lunch, or dinner. Having social connections outside of being a caregiver builds resilience, which helps manage stress and lightens your mental load.
  • Join support groups: Join a local or online support group. Having shared experiences with those going through similar experiences can be very helpful to validate your feelings or to help problem-solve.

Taking care of someone you love can be a way to show you care, but it can also be stressful. Make sure to care for yourself as you provide care for others.

Stephanie Jensen, RN, is a Clinical Product specialist who interprets clinical guidelines to create evidence-based educational content. She has been a nurse for over 20 years. In her free time, Stephanie enjoys spending time with family and friends, especially on the baseball field watching her children do what they love.

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