Giving Back to Yourself: Self Care for Care-Givers

Why you need to look after yourself, while looking after your loved ones.

“Put your own mask on first” – a message we often hear when we travel and a good reminder that we need to take care of ourselves first, before we help others! Being a caregiver for an unwell loved one, while rewarding and important, can also be all-consuming and exhausting – we understandably tend to neglect ourselves when focused primarily on the well-being of others.

Care-giver stress and burnout, often manifested through anxiety, negative physical and mental effects and mood changes, can have an adverse impact on your own health in the long run. Besides, we can look after and help others on their health journeys, only if we look after ourselves.

If you identify with the following signs of caregiver stress and burnout, it’s time to give back to yourself and focus on some self-care:

  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Falling sick more frequently
  • Weight and appetite fluctuations
  • General apathy towards things you used to enjoy
  • Loss of interest in exercise
  • Ignoring your own health and avoiding doctor’s appointments
  • Physical and emotional fatigue
  • Changes in temper and temperament
  • Constant feeling of worry

Do any of the above sound familiar to you? If yes, it’s important to take a pause and look after yourself as well. When looking to help make the sometimes-bumpy ride a little bit smoother, try to...

Compartmentalize (make yourself a priority)

When being a caregiver, it’s natural that your days begin to center around the ill family member and their needs and wants. It’s not easy, but we often need to re-learn how to prioritize ourselves and our quality of life. Set some time aside for hobbies and self-care activities that help you feel better and more at peace, even if it’s short too are worth the attention and love! Another form of self-care is to set boundaries to help with personal stress – about things you can or cannot do and asking for assistance when required. This can help ease the burden and help you feel more organized when it comes to caring for others and yourself.

Pay attention to the signs [1] (physical health to stay grounded)

When looking after someone amidst a health crisis, staying healthy ourselves helps us be prepared to sit steady in times of turbulence. As the saying goes – prevention is better than cure! Check your health markers periodically and don’t delay doctors’ appointments and corrective healthcare measures, if required. Besides, putting your health at risk and falling sick can make it even more stressful to look after someone else’s health. If you are feeling overwhelmed with everything on your plate, start with small, actionable steps for your health, such as going in for a consultation or adding in one manageable change at a time to your daily routine. Consider the addition of health tech devices that can help you monitor the health metrics of your loved ones, and yourself, in easier and more seamless ways, giving you some peace of mind and a breather as well.

Fuel up for the long haul (nourishment for health and well-being)

Nutrition can affect both physical and mental health. Timely, balanced meals, in the right quantities, help keep us healthy and energized. Sometimes packing in all essential macro and micro nutrients in daily meals isn’t possible – handy nutritional supplements can help bridge the gaps when needed. Fortifying your body well sets the stage for long-term wellness and health. Remember to nourish and nurture yourself… just as you would a loved one!

Keep moving (stay active and engaged)

If you find yourself feeling stuck and under pressure...move for health and for happiness. Exercise does wonders for all aspects of health from strength and immunity to mood and managing chronic illness. Exercise also provides a good dose of feel-good hormones like endorphins, that can help put you in a better mood while you later go about handling a busy day and responsibilities. Physical activity can also help you better deal with feelings of anxiety and inertia, common in care-givers. Re-connect with your own body and its unique needs and give it a little love, with some form of exercise that you enjoy, every day!

Unpack the load[2]  (share the burden)

It’s natural to feel uneasy, isolated, sad or even upset when taking on a lot of responsibility. Packing it all away only makes the baggage heavier. Talk to people you are close to and mental health professionals, to better cope with the range of often extreme emotions care-giving can entail. Sharing your feelings is the first step to finding a way to best deal with them; and remaining connected to people can be a source of joy and fulfillment. Additionally, it can get overwhelming if you take on everything by yourself– try to ease some of your burden, by sharing the load of daily tasks and care-giving responsibilities with family members and others, to provide some relief. It isn’t easy being a caregiver and we all need a helping hand and a patient ear sometimes. Reaching out for help, of the emotional and practical kind, can be one of the healthiest things you do for yourself.

Rest well (sleep better to function better)

Sleep deprivation is often seen in care-giver burnout. This lack of sleep can cause a whole host of negative side effects like impaired cognitive facilities, exhaustion, compromised immune system and much more… further adding to your stress. Try to not just rest, but rest well and improve your quality of sleep. Relaxation techniques like mediation, breathing practices and yoga can also help power down your mind, and give you some much needed ‘me’ time as well.

Caring for loved ones with illness is no easy task and often we become inattentive to our own needs – physical and mental. Looking after oneself shouldn’t be a luxury, but an essential component of well-being and a means to achieve long-term health, more so for caregivers who have a lot to take care of. Putting some self-care measures into practice and accepting a little help from others sometimes, enables you to better treat yourself with the same love and compassion as you extend to your loved ones! 

Disclaimer: The information mentioned in this document is only suggestive/for patient education and shall not be considered as a substitute for doctor’s advice or recommendations from Abbott. Please consult your doctor for more information.