October 7, 2016

​Self-care for Caregivers

Even Jesus took time off.

Julie Guirgis

The challenges of being a caregiver can be overwhelming, especially if you feel you have little control over the situation, or that you’re in over your head. If the stress of caring is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind. So taking time to rest, relax, and recharge isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity.

Caring for someone can be a rewarding yet stressful experience; it involves many responsibilities and pressures. Some causes of stress include changes in the family: household disruption, financial pressure, and added workload, which is why caregivers can be more susceptible to burnout.

“The most effective means of preventing caregiver burnout is taking care of the caregiver,” says Joan Lunden, author of
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers, and caregiver to her mother before her mother’s death in 2013. Lunden offers these tips to avoid caregiver burnout:

  • Reach out to others for support.
  • Uphold your friendships.
  • Take time to exercise.
  • Share the role with family and friends.
  • Keep your medical appointments.
  • Eat a healthful diet.
  • Talk to a professional.
  • Take a break from caregiving.
  • Engage in pleasant, nurturing activities such as reading a good book or taking a warm bath.
  • Attend to your own health-care needs.
  • Get proper rest and nutrition.
  • Take time off without feeling guilty.1


A common question caregivers ask is “How can I take care of myself when I’m exhausted from taking care of my loved one?” Understandably, the thought of taking care of anyone or anything else can be draining.

Jennifer Louden, personal growth pioneer and author of A Year of Daily Joy, gives sage advice on the importance of self-care: “Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well. We need to take care of our own needs first, and then we can give from our surplus, our abundance.”2

Taking care of yourself involves spending time, energy, and money to ensure that your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs are being met, and engaging in self-directed activities that nourish your mind, body, and spirit.

Jesus promises that He will bring rest and refreshment to the weary. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

But when we neglect to surrender our cares to God, Ellen White says, “Your trouble comes because you are so anxious to run things yourself that you do not wear the yoke of Christ.”3

So as we make resting in God’s presence a regular practice, He is faithful to refill our tanks and equip us with strength to meet the challenges of each day.

Asking for and Accepting Help

When people have asked if they can be of help to you, how often have you replied, “Thank you, but I’m fine”? A caregiver’s reluctance to seek help stems from their belief of being a burden to others or appearing incapable.

Prepare a list of ways others could help you. For example, someone could take the person you care for on a 15-minute walk a couple times a week. Your neighbor could pick up a few things for you at the grocery store. A relative might fill out some insurance papers. When you break down the jobs into very simple tasks, it is easier for people to help. And they do want to help. It is up to you to tell them how.

Use other resources. Ask friends, family members, and professionals for suggestions. If nothing helps, accept that the problem may not be solvable right now. You can revisit it at another time.4

Maintaining Your Health

Exercise promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression, and increases energy and alertness. If necessary, do frequent short exercises instead of those that require large blocks of time. Find activities you enjoy.

Walking is an easy exercise to do and a great way to get started. Besides, its physical benefits help reduce psychological tension. If you find it difficult to fit in the time, try incorporating it into your everyday life, such as walking to the shopping center, a nearby park, or around the block with a friend.

Talking With Your Doctor

As well as taking on the household chores, shopping, transport, and personal care, you may also give medications, injections, and medical treatment to the person you care for. This, of course, is based on medical care and advice from your doctor.

While you may discuss your loved one’s care with the doctor, however, remember that your own health is just as essential. Building a partnership with a doctor who addresses the health needs of both you and your loved one is important. The responsibility of this partnership ideally is shared between you as the caregiver, the doctor, and other health-care staff.

Dealing With Emotions

Your emotions are messages to which you need to listen; they exist for a reason. Even if they are negative or painful, your feelings are useful tools for understanding what is happening to you. Learn from them, and take suitable action.

Caring for someone can invoke various feelings and emotional reactions. What’s important to understand is that all your emotions, whether positive or negative, are valid. Some common emotions you may experience as a caregiver are anxiety, sadness and depression, anger, frustration, and grief. When you find that your emotions are intense, that might mean the following:

  • You need to make a change in your form of caregiving.
  • You are grieving a loss.
  • You are experiencing increased stress.
  • You need to be assertive and ask for what you need.

It’s easy to pour so much energy into caring that it becomes your whole life. But regularly taking time out to attend to your needs and health is an important aspect of being an effective caregiver.

Remember to value yourself and all that you do.

  1. J. Lunden and A. Newmark, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012).
  2. J. Louden, A Year of Daily Joy (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2014).
  3. Ellen G. White, “The Cause of Perplexity,” The Gospel Herald, Apr. 23, 1902.
  4. Taking Care of You: Self-care for Family Caregivers (prepared by Family Caregiver Alliance, 2012), www.caregiver.org.

Julie Guirgis is is an international freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. She cares for her intellectually challenged brother and her father, who has dementia.