The responsibility of caring for a loved one can be stressful and often leaves little time to prioritize self-care. Self-care consists of anything you take time to do that improves your physical and mental health.

According to AARP’s 2020 Caregiving in the U.S. report, there are over 53 million family caregivers, and 23% of caregivers reported that caregiving has worsened their own health. With so many Americans taking on this laborious and generally unpaid role, it is important that the health of caregivers is actively nurtured as well.

Recognizing caregiver burnout

By not prioritizing self-care as a family caregiver, you may begin to suffer from caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout is a state of emotional exhaustion resulting from feeling worn out by your responsibilities. As a caregiver, you may not feel that you had a choice in your decision to step into that role, which can further the development of burnout symptoms. Along with feeling compelled to care for a loved one, you may place unrealistic expectations on yourself regarding the amount of load you are able to take on. Caregiver burnout may also be caused by a role confusion and an inability to separate your personal and caregiving relationships with your loved one.

Symptoms of caregiver burnout include:

  • Depression
  • Physical fatigue
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Withdraw from social activities
  • Feelings of distress

In order to make sure you can successfully care for your loved one, you must first take care for yourself. It is important to remember that self-care is not a luxury but a necessity.

Self-care tips for family caregivers

The first step in prioritizing self-care as a family caregiver is recognizing that you may need help. It can be very easy to feel guilty for needing or asking for help, but there is nothing wrong from taking a step back from time to time.

Here are five ways to implement self-care as a family caregiver.

Physical activity

Maintaining a level of physical activity can be extremely impactful in reducing stress and providing energy. Exercise can improve your mood, help you sleep better and help combat feelings of distress or depression.

Take time to enjoy what you love

Take a few hours each week to get back to the activities that you love. This can be anything from going out into town, getting together with friends, having a spa day or even just catching up on your favorite shows.

Set limits and realistic expectations with yourself and your loved one

It may sometimes feel that the job of caregiving is too much for you to handle. Try setting realistic limits and expectations into your caregiving responsibilities. Set goals and priorities and keep in mind how much you accomplish each day.

Talk to a professional

Sometimes having a line of communication with a professional who is objective and provides outside insight can calm your peace of mind. You don’t have to be afraid of feeling judged or criticized when speaking to a professional about what you are struggling with as a caregiver.

Take a respite

Respite care services allow family caregivers a temporary relief from their caregiving responsibilities. Respite periods are tailored to each patient and family’s needs and can let caregivers relax and take care of themselves. Caregivers can use this time to take care of other household responsibilities, rest or spend time with other family members. These may seem like simple tasks but can be easily neglected as a family caregiver. The benefits of respite care extend to every member of the family, not just the caregiver.

Respite care services are often provided by home health care agencies and ease family caregivers’ minds knowing their loved one is in safe hands. Maxim offers respite care services only at some locations so contact your local office for more information.