Self‑care keeps your body and mind in peak condition. But it's hard to find time for self‑care when you spend your days caring for someone else. Perhaps you're parenting young children while also caring for aging parents. Maybe you're a caregiver for your spouse or an elderly friend or family member. Your caregiving role could be all the more challenging if your loved one has dementia.
Being a family caregiver can be stressful. Mental burnout will occur quickly if you don’t stay on top of self‑care. Start by making small, wellness‑focused changes to your life. You’ll soon experience the benefits. Many aspects of self‑care seem obvious, like getting enough sleep, taking time to relax, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise. Unfortunately, though these activities have proven benefits for mental health, they're often overlooked.
Intentional self‑care keeps you healthy enough to continue your role as a caregiver. Self‑care simply means loving yourself enough to take care of your needs too.
Below, find six important ways self‑care can prevent burnout from caregiver stress.
Regular Exercise Boosts Your Mood
Exercise, an important part of self‑care, has many benefits for your body and mind. People who keep up a consistent exercise routine often do so because it boosts their well-being.
Many studies show that exercise is as effective as antidepressants at treating mild to moderate depression. The act of working out helps distract you from stress and negative thoughts. Plus, a fit body is always a self‑esteem booster. Exercise also fights anxiety by reducing tension and stress in the body.
Movement has these mood‑boosting effects because it
- encourages healthy neural growth
- causes the release of endorphins in the brain
- reduces inflammation throughout your body
If the person you care for can join in, include them in some of your workouts by going on a walk together, taking a yoga class, or doing some light stretching.
Quality Sleep Combats Common Mental Disorders
- Make essential cellular repairs
- Rid itself of toxins
- Place short‑term memories into our long‑term storage
Too little sleep or irregular sleep will disrupt your body’s ability to perform these important tasks. This ultimately increases your risk of poor mental health. Poor sleep disrupts the levels of neurotransmitters and hormones in your brain, impairing our ability to think and regulate emotions.
Practice good sleep hygiene as an act of self‑care. Follow these tips for better sleep:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and rising at the same time each day.
- Keep your bedroom dark and cool to encourage sleep.
- Avoid stimulating activities before bed to help your mind wind down.
- Replace your old mattress if possible. According to the Sleep Foundation, you should replace your mattress every 6‑8 years.
Relaxation Techniques Reduce Daily Stress
Stress reduction is an important part of caring for your mental health. Relaxation, which is simply the state of feeling calm, has so many benefits, including
Reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions
Reducing muscle tension
Improving your concentration
Boosting your mood
Lowering your blood pressure
Of course, relaxation is sometimes easier said than done. Try some of these simple, helpful relaxation techniques when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed:
Progressive muscle relaxation. Tense your muscles as you breathe in, then loosen them on the exhale.
Visualization. Focusing your mind’s eye on relaxing images can be a helpful way to mentally remove yourself from stressful situations.
Meditation. There are many free meditation apps to help you start a daily relaxation ritual.
Mindfulness. Mayo Clinic offers a variety of mindfulness exercises to get started.
Set goals. Making lists allows you to prioritize what needs to be done and identify what can be put off for later.
Talk to someone. It’s helpful to talk to friends and family about how you’re feeling. Ask for help if caregiving is stretching you thin.
Consider designing a special room or space in your house for meditation. Fitness Magazine recommends choosing a meditation space where you can feel calm and free from distractions. Your relaxation space should be free of clutter and contain things that delight you, such as candles, plants, or soft pillows. Include your loved one in your stress relief activities, or at least enjoy some quiet time together while you do a crossword puzzle and they read a good book.
As you go about your day, try to minimize stress with every activity you do. Recognize signs of stress, like a short temper, trouble sleeping, or fatigue. Also avoid consuming substances that disrupt your stress hormones, including caffeine and alcohol.
Saying “No” Can Improve Your Well‑Being
Saying “yes” to everything can be more damaging to your mental health than you think. Overworking quickly leads to stress and burnout. The resulting mental fatigue inhibits our ability to regulate our emotions and control negative thoughts. Saying “no” to things helps you practice moving at a slower pace.
Learn to say “no” to activities and tasks that
- Don’t add value to your life
- Come with too much pressure
- You simply don’t have time for at the moment
Work to eliminate tasks from your to‑do list and add “me time” to the top of your list. Even a few minutes of self‑care each day can add up in the long run. Unfortunately, you can’t expect anyone else to carve out self‑care time on your behalf.
Finding Outside Support Relieves Pressure
Many caregivers feel resistant to seeking support. Unfortunately, this only exacerbates your stress and anxiety. There are so many ways to find support and assistance as a caregiver, and giving yourself time to seek them is a form of self‑care.
Here are some ways to take care of yourself by leaning on others.
- Join a support group. Local hospitals, senior centers, and awareness organizations often offer information on caregiver support groups in your area.
- Take advantage of caregiver resources. The internet is full of tools and resources to support caregivers in a variety of situations. From helpful presentations on caregiver stress to informational videos on Alzheimer's disease, you can often find a resource to answer your questions.
In the following three‑module series, Dr. Martha Leatherman and Dr. Beth Goethe offer an in‑depth answer to the question: “What do I do to get rid of caregiver stress?”
Ask other family members for help. The expression, "Many hands make light work," holds particularly true with caregiving, although people won't be able to help you if they don't know how to help. The more specific you are, the better. If there is a particular task or service you'd like off your plate, designate a willing friend or family member to take it on.
- Consider hiring in‑home care. If it's within your budget, an in‑home care provider can offer critical assistance. Don't be afraid to ask the appropriate family members for financial assistance if necessary. In‑home help and medical support can make a huge difference in the life of a caregiver. And if you’re too exhausted to take care of yourself and your loved one, it’s acceptable and normal to explore other options, such as assisted living.
Accepting Your Best Efforts Eases Frustrations
One final way to care for yourself as a caregiver is accepting your best efforts. Your new mantra is “I’m doing the best I can.”
Caregiving can be an incredibly challenging, thankless job. Most caregivers report satisfaction along the way, but it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees when you’re stuck in the daily grind. One of the very best things you can do for your health is to love yourself and accept that you’re doing your best. If you’re doing the best you can, your efforts are enough.
Self‑care is great for your body and brain. As a caregiver, you must stay on top of it to preserve your well‑being and the health of the person you care for.
The next time you’re feeling down, try a quick walk around the block or 20 minutes in your meditation space. Give yourself some love and take care of your mental health through these simple self‑care activities.