The selflessness of self-care

A math question for you about care: if you are a family caregiver to one person, how many people do you care for?

If you answered two, you can stop reading.

If you answered one, then let’s put a red X through that answer. Why? You can’t take care of someone else if you don’t take care of yourself first.

If the person for whom you provide care was in fair to poor health, suffering from depression, missing doctor’s appointments, stressed, and had a compromised immune system up to three years after being cured, would that be acceptable to you? Probably not, yet family caregivers report experiencing all of the above issues.

If it’s not good enough for them, it not’s good enough for you.

Perhaps at first, 1-to-1 care was manageable but lately, your moods haven’t been as steady, and your emotional fuse is growing ever shorter. You’ve noticed your favorite jeans no longer seem to fit and you can’t recall the last time you’ve gone out with friends. If you charted these gradual changes, you’d find they directly coincide with the increased care needs of the person for whom you provide care.

Signs of caregiver burnout:

Constant worry
Never feeling completely rested
Frequent pain, headaches, and body aches
Weight loss or gain
Sleeping too little or too much
Loss of interest in activities
Being easily upset
Using alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication
Catching colds more often than usual
Who is at the highest risk? 

Individuals caring for a year or longer
Caregivers managing care of a long-term condition
Caregivers age 65+
High burden caregivers
Dementia caregivers
Live-in family caregiversIf you can relate to any of the items on these lists, the good news is you can readjust some things and take some preventative actions toward selfless self-care. Why? Because caregiver burnout is real and your goal is to become a success and not a statistic. And also, your care recipient would not want you to sacrifice your health or happiness to care for them. The stronger you are, the stronger the care you provide will be. It’s a simple equation,                        
Care for Them + Care for You = Good Care

Things you can incorporate into your routine:

Stay involved in activities you love
Find a support group or fellow caregiver to confide in
Delegate responsibilities
Eat for energy, not comfort
Exercise regularly
Visit your doctor and let them know you are a caregiver
Ask for and receive help
Send group updates to family
Take note of the good things in your day
Release the need to do things perfectly
Source local respite care services via the local council on aging
Stay informed about the disease process
Don’t bottle up feelings
Journal and note your achievements to lift you up on down days

Finally, stop and consider what others can assist you with and make a list. The next time someone says to you, “If there is anything I can ever do, let me know,” you’ll have an instant answer. There is no prize awarded for doing everything yourself. By allowing others to assist you, you enable your care recipient to interact with new people and together they can create shared memories. 

You have what it takes to do the demanding job of caregiving if you know your limits and treat yourself as well as your care recipient. And remember to do for yourself what you do for them because in care, that’s fair.  


Colleen Kavanaugh was a caregiver for a decade to both parents who lived with Breast Cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. She’s now a Certified Dementia Practitioner and Certified Dementia Communications Specialist who advocates for and empowers family caregivers in all areas and stages of care. You can learn more about Colleen at www.thelongestdance.com. 

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