You might be familiar with the phrase, "You don't pour from an empty cup," and while this can be a frustrating motto from those who are looking out for you, it is one of the most important and truest things when you have the role of a caregiver. Self-care for caregivers is important: you need to put on your oxygen mask first. Enough idioms; it's time to care for the caregiver.
Quick and Easy Self-Care Ideas for Caregivers
If you're in need of a quick recharge, not home, or want a swift pick-me-up, these ideas have you covered.
There are hundreds of studies about the benefits of stepping outside. It's also known as forest bathing, but you don't need to head to the woods. Simply sitting outside in nature has benefits enough to help you focus, boost your energy, lower not only your stress but your blood pressure, and lift your spirits.
Forest bathing is quick and easy enough to even add to your daily caregiver self-care routine.
Using Laughter for Self-Care
There's a reason so many say that laughter is the best medicine. Listen to a track from your favorite comedian, listen to a comedy station while eating lunch, or allow a humorous podcast to bubble up some laughter.
Hype Yourself Up
You're doing an incredible job. Full stop. There's no "you could do this better, you could do that other thing faster." You're doing a great job. Give yourself a few seconds or minutes of kind words, compassion, and self-love to acknowledge that you are rocking a very difficult duty.
Take a Breath or Meditate
No time for a full break? Take the time to center yourself, clear your mind, and run through a few mantras, brief prayer, or breathing techniques. You can even carry self affirmation cards with you to draw inspiration from.
Make Washing Your Hands a Vacation
The CDC recommends you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Take that time to daydream of a vacation, a sunny day, a cozy memory, or recite a few lines of your favorite poem. Wherever you go, let your mind forget about what you need to do in two minutes and allow it to fly around the world for 20 seconds.
Skip the Scroll and Read on Your Phone
Download the Kindle or Libby app to your phone and spend some time reading instead of doomscrolling. With most libraries, you can sign up for an eCard online and have instant access to digital books.
Not only can library cards give you access to ebooks, but you can rent audiobooks and movies too.
Self-Care Ideas for Caregivers When You Have a Little More Time
If you have the chance to carve out an hour or two, perhaps an entire block of time, or hopefully a full afternoon and then some - allow these ideas to wash away some of the stress.
Give Yourself the Gift of Time
Be realistic about your limits. In her post about keeping a one-sentence journal, happiness guru and author Gretchen Rubin says, "We tend to overestimate what we can do in the short term, and underestimate what we can do in the long term." Don't try and accomplish everything in one day; take a step back, and see what you can delegate or schedule on another day.
Take Care of Your Health
It's not glamorous self-care, but scheduling and following through on your own health, doctor appointments, and treatments is an important part of self-care. It's important for caregivers to nurture their own wellbeing.
Journaling for Self-Care
If you're holding onto a lot of thoughts, to-do lists, worries, fears, hopes, dreams - journal them! Don't keep those words in your head. Try out freewriting to help you to release all of those pent up words and thoughts without judgement. No sentence, idea, or topic is off limits. Handwrite your thoughts or type them into a notes app or Google doc.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
Whether you work with a therapist, have a trusted and reliable group of friends to turn to for advice or to vent, or want to seek out appropriate medication from your doctor to help manage things like anxiety, depression, or panic attacks, mental health is important.
It couldn't be easier to find a therapist in the modern age! You can find a therapist by state, city, remote or in person, and search by insurance as well using the Psychology Today website.
Allow People to Help You
When someone reaches out to take something off your plate, run an errand, or bring you a meal - accept the help. Accepting help and asking for help can be one of the hardest things to do. But think of all the times you've been happy to help someone else. It's okay and normal to need help. You're only human.
Watch Something Funny
A therapist once told me that if you're looking for something feel-good to watch, opt for a TV show rather than a movie. Sitcoms need to cram in more laughs in a shorter time than a movie, which often has longer lows and needs to stretch out the jokes. Yes, this gives you permission to watch something in bed more often. Skip the scrolling, though, and stick to streaming.
Daily Care for Caregivers
Don't wait until you're burnt out to start caring for yourself. But there's no reason not to start, even if you're already there. Slip little bits of self-care into your day to make life more manageable.
Fed Is Best
If it's lunchtime and all you can stomach is a bowl of cereal, then chow down on that bowl of cereal. Have two, have three. Yes, well-rounded meals are ideal, but fed is best and you can't operate on an empty stomach.
Hydration is important to keep trucking along. Carry a water bottle with you or grab a few sips here or there anytime you pass the sink. Whatever it takes to make sure you drink plenty of water. Try infused waters or download a water app that sends you reminders to drink too.
Record Your Day
Don't literally record your day, but jot down a few highs, lows, and toss in a few lines of gratitude. These days can be short, they can be the longest days ever, they can be memorable. Dump out those days before hitting the pillow so your brain can rest. You can handwrite these or type them up on your phone!
Get Enough Sleep
It can be tempting to finish folding the laundry, empty the dishwasher, write out your grocery list, or clean the bathroom when you finally have a few minutes alone before going to bed. But hit the hay and go to sleep. Your brain and body need that time to decompress and rest.
Carve Out Time For What Makes You Happy
Whether you love to read, flip through magazines, scroll through hilarious dog pictures, keep up with your yoga, call your Dad every Thursday to catch up, cook, spend time with your plants, or just love to lay down and watch SVU with your furry pal, take the time to do what makes your brain light up - no matter how big, small, or silly.
Move Your Body
To quote Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy." Whether you get a little active with some stretching, go for a run, do some strength training, or go for a swim, move your body. Not only will your body thank you, but it can help your mind to think clearer, problem solve, and help with emotional regulation.
Have a Daily Self-Care Checklist
No, this doesn't mean a daily spa treatment. But brush your teeth, wash your face, change out your towels, have a tasty snack, dance as small or as big as you want to your favorite song or two. The satisfaction you get from accomplishing a checklist is a thrill. And no matter how little the win, a victory is a victory.
Self-Care for Caregivers Looks Different for Everyone
There is no one answer for self-care for caregivers. Sometimes a gin martini with a book on the deck enjoying the peace and quiet is exactly what one caregiver needs. For another they might want to be surrounded by close friends, coffee, and some snacks. What you need can change day to day, week to week, and month to month. What's always the most important is what helps you.
Caregiver Help and Resources
You don't need to live the caregiver life alone, and you sure shouldn't. There are plenty of resources and communities right at your fingertips or just outside your door.
- Cancer Support Community for Caregivers - Find lots of resources, education, and inspiration for caregivers providing care for loved ones with cancer.
- American Cancer Society Caregivers - Get articles, interactive guides, videos and more on this site.
- Family Caregiver Alliance - Get connected and find helpful resources for family caregivers.
- Caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's - Find specific resources for caregivers helping those with Alzheimer's and dementia.
- The Memory Hub - Share, connect with others, and learn in this caregiver forum.
- The Caregiver Space - Find inspiration and get answers about caregiving from those who have lived it.
Caregiver Online Forums
It can be hard to ask for help or even broach the subject of what you need. But take comfort in these online communities that are on the same wavelength - all from the comfort of your couch. These forums are for caregivers from eighteen to eighty-eight, too.
- Aging Care Caregiver Forum - Connect with others and find resources like senior care guides.
- Caregiver Action Network Care Chat - Chat with other caregivers, post anonymous questions, and get the newsletter from Caregiver Action Network.
- AARP Caregiving Forum - Get insight from other caregivers or tips from AARP experts here.
- Caregiver Support Services Member Forum - Caregivers in any situation can learn, network, and get support.
- Caregiver Support Reddit - Find encouragement, connect, ask questions and get support on this forum.
Take the Time for You
Whatever that means to you and for you, take the time you need. Whether that's with a book you've read a hundred times already, rewatching a comfort show, or going to bed twenty minutes earlier - take the time you need, take the time you want. Fill your cup, caregiver. You deserve all the love and care you so freely give.