caregiver talking to elder man

Caregiving is the act of assisting a person, usually a family member or friend, who is unable to carry out his or her daily routine without help. Most adults have fallen into the role of caregiver at some point in their lives. Whether the person who needs care is a newborn baby, a child with special needs, or an aging loved one, caregiving can feel like a never-ending job.

Constantly focusing on your loved one can sap all of your energy, leaving you feeling emotionally and physically drained. An important part of being a caregiver is making time for yourself: acknowledging that you have needs and doing your best to meet them.

Feeling Selfish
You may feel that taking time out for yourself is selfish. However, taking time for yourself doesn't mean you don't care about your loved one; your job as a caregiver is less effective when your emotional health is tenuous. Think of it as nourishment for your mind. When you don't eat, your body revolts: you start getting snippy; your head and stomach ache; you feel faint. If you don't take the time to make yourself happy, no matter how briefly, stress, resentment or sadness will show through. Take the time to see a movie, walk around the block, or read a book. It will make you a better caregiver in the end.

Stress and Depression
Caring for somebody full-time can be a very stressful situation, especially if someone in your care is unable to respond to your love and attention. Stress, depression, and burnout are common problems among caregivers. Taking a break from your loved one can boost your emotional state, minimising negative feelings. Reduced stress and depression is not only beneficial to you, but to the person for whom you are caring.

Finding the Time
Finding time away from your caregiver role can be stressful in itself if you don't have a contingency plan in place. Ask your family member's doctor for a referral to a respite care agency. Or, perhaps you may consider employing a respite care worker occasionally--some doctors recommend weekly--so you can pursue a hobby or have lunch with friends without worrying.

If you're a new parent to a demanding infant, hire a babysitter to watch your child while you catch up on sleep or go to the supermarket alone. Even an hour each week away from caregiving can help you regain your perspective, refresh your coping skills, and help you relax. Activities can include:

  • Attending a support group for caregivers
  • Allowing friends and family to help you prepare meals, shop, or clean the house
  • Exercising to reduce mental and physical stress
  • Caring for your own health as needed

Taking care of yourself mentally is just as important as taking a physical break away from your loved one. The FCA stresses the importance of following through on your yearly physicals, getting regular exercise, and sleeping well to stay healthy for your family. After all, if you're in poor health, how can you properly care for your loved one?