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Caregiver Self Care

Isn’t Self Care Selfish?

There are many phrases that become cliche over time. However, they usually are overused because they are true and applicable to many people. One of those is that “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” This is to say that if you are completely drained you will have little to nothing to give to anyone else. We can do more for those around us if we take care of ourselves. 

Oxygen Masks

If you have ever been a passenger on an airplane you probably know that they instruct you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else. They understand that your personal health will suffer if the proper precautions are not taken, and as health declines, we will have no strength to help anyone else. 

The Dalai Lama said, “If you feel burnout setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself.”


When you have someone else’s life in your hands, it is important to be honest and recognize when you need a break. There is nothing wrong with needing to retreat and replenish yourself, because after all we are only human. If you were having surgery you would expect your surgeon to be well-rested. No one wants to put their life in someone’s hands who is deprived of sleep, proper nutrition, and overall health and strength. 

“Self-care is not a waste of time; self-care makes your use of time more sustainable.”- Jackie Viramontez

Negative Effects of Caregiving

Although caregiving is such a wonderful service, it has very negative effects on the body and overall health. Being a caregiver is demanding in physical, emotional, mental and social ways. If you are the caregiver of a spouse and are over the age of 65, then you add complications of aging to all of this and it becomes even more detrimental. 

In addition to increased health problems, caregivers also report an increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in an attempt to self-medicate for the demands of the job. Of course we know that the excessive use of any of these things will also lead to, you guessed it, more health problems. 

Where Can I Begin?

Take Responsibility

The first thing you need to do is recognize that you are the only one that knows when you need a break. You are the one who knows what you are lacking and what you need. You are the one that needs to take charge of your health and take the initiative to begin self-care. 

Identify Barriers

It is likely that if you have stepped into the role of caregiving, this role could last quite a while. It will be advantageous to you to identify the barriers that stand in the way of you taking care of yourself. Is it limited time? Is it limited finances? Is it lack of relief care? Whatever the excuse you have for neglecting yourself, identify them and write them down. This will help with the next step. 

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries is not easy. It takes a lot of awareness to even know what boundaries can benefit your life. An example of a boundary for a caregiver could be something as simple as “if I feel tired then I will take a short nap,” or “before I do anything for anyone else I will do something for myself.” A boundary should ultimately protect and benefit you. Boundaries are a good way to kickstart healthy habits.

Reduce Stress

Reducing stress will reduce some health problems naturally. Reducing stress will increase mood and can be a huge step in being able to give more of yourself to the person you are caring for. Stress will naturally increase when you are caring for someone. It is a lot to add to your plate. 

A few things you can do to reduce stress include: 

  • Know stress triggers
  • Eliminate sources of stress where possible
  • Seek to make small changes
  • Meditation
  • Exercise

Knowing what your stressors are and what works best for you to combat that stress is most important. Everyone is different. Ultimately, an effort to make even small changes will be better for you in the long run. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and increase your stress. A great place to start would be to close your eyes, put your hand over your heart, and focus on your breathing for just thirty seconds. 

Seek and Ask for Help

Most people do not feel comfortable asking for help. But, the fact of the matter is that we all need help. There are two parts to this step. Seeking help means researching help resources available to those in a caregiver role. Start by looking into respite care or local care facilities that will sometimes offer adult daycare. 

In addition to knowing what help is available to you, it is also important to be humble enough to ask for help. Know when you need help, who could potentially help, and then don’t be afraid to voice the need. Most people will be ready and willing to help in any way they can. The number one thing that keeps people from helping others is not knowing if and how to proceed. 


The following are a few resources available to help caregivers. 

In-person Caregiver Support for East Idaho– The Area Agency on Aging

Idaho 211 Careline. The hotline can be reached through simply dialing 211. Information about Medicaid and more will be referred to you.

In-Home Care– The Gables has locations all throughout Idaho and offers in-home care.

Short-term Stay– The Gables also offers adult day care or respite short term stay options.

For a more comprehensive list of caregiver resources check out this page

Bottom Line

Caregiving takes a toll on your health. The person you care for will benefit from you prioritizing your own care. Know what you need, recognize triggers, ask for help, and understand the importance of taking time for self care. 

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