5 Reasons Caregivers Skip Self Care And What I Did To Change My Priorities
As someone who is seven years into the caregiver journey, after my 46-year-old husband suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and subsequent brain injury, I have heard all about “self-care.”
It’s important to mention that I am also a nurse practitioner for the last seven years and was an RN for 10 years before that.
The number of lectures I gave to my patient’s caregivers is likely in the thousands!
Yes, we absolutely should care for ourselves. Yes, we understand why it is so important. Just in case you do not know, let me share some insight.
According to the National Library of Medicine, a family caregiver is exposed to chronic stress. Between our caregiver responsibilities, running a household, and for some of us, even working a job outside the home is a lot for one individual to carry.
Those of us who are unpaid family caregivers can expect the following risks to our mental and physical health:
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
That’s right, the amount of unending stress we experience in our caregiver roles can do a number on our health.
Statistically, caregivers often die before the person they are caring for. It is not a pleasant thought, but it is reality.
If you really want to know all the most detailed information from the CDC, I’ve included the link here:
The days when I used to tell people, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” or “You need to make time to care for yourself” I had NO IDEA what a day-to-day caregiver went through.
Now that I know, I feel so sorry for running my mouth about self-care.
For me, I find that my most significant barrier to self-care is just having to add one more task to my already overloaded schedule!
It took me a very long time to understand the shifts that I needed to make in my own life to keep myself physically and mentally healthy for this 24/7 job of caring for my husband for the rest of my life.
To be honest and authentic, when I had downtime, I generally just wanted to do something mindless like sit and scroll on social media. This made me jealous that everyone else was getting to have a life that Mark and I were supposed to have!
I see great self-care quotes, books, and activities, but at the end of the day, if I don’t shift my perspective and get my head in the right place, I will never follow through on any of them!
So why do we sabotage our care?
As a full-time caregiver, you likely have very few times in the day where you can focus on just one thing. Like meditation or reading. As soon as your person is up, you are likely in the same shoes as most of us. We hit the ground running. It is hard because your time is so precious and so full, when you have a minute, it’s hard to decide what to do, so often we just do NOTHING!
Personally, the change that helped me MAKE time for self-care (let’s face it, you have to make it because it won’t just appear) was to SCHEDULE time! I started going to be earlier and getting up about 60-90 minutes before Mark needed to be up.
Trust me. I am TIRED. I have argued in my head almost daily for the last seven years about this one.
“Do I need to exercise?” “Maybe I should just stay asleep and get up early tomorrow.”
I have disciplined myself to GET UP. Regardless of how tired I feel, this time is important. I take this 60-90 minutes and do yoga for about 20 minutes, I pray, I meditate, I read, and then I allow myself to have a short social media scroll. That’s it. It helps me feel like I have some time for ME to start the day and helps me to feel grounded and ready for the day.
To spend money on ourselves is a tough one! Most of us have likely lost an income, have never-ending medical bills, and have expenses we never expected. (Have you seen how much incontinent supplies are????)
So while I do not encourage anyone to put themselves into debt for self-care, I have learned when I do our monthly budget, that I should set aside a small amount for a treat for myself. This allows me to have something to look forward to and I know that the bills are covered, so I don’t need to feel bad about spending the money.
Disclosure: For me, this usually looks like money to take my 2-year-old granddaughter somewhere fun on the weekend, but you know what will make YOU happy, so do that thing!
I’ve read all the self-care tips and listed activities I want to do, but some days, I just don’t know that I can put forth the effort to take a walk or even make a cup of tea! While it all sounds lovely, some days I just feel so beat down by my responsibilities and the world of healthcare I just want to go to bed and pull the blankets over my head!
You must put forth the effort. I’m sorry to tell you but you may have to do something you don’t FEEL like doing if you want to feel better.
Somehow in our dazed fatigue, we self-sabotage and think, “I’ll do that thing tomorrow.” However, this is a slippery slope and often leads to feelings of resentment, jealousy, and even caregiver burnout.
Do it even if you don’t feel like it.
I rarely feel like exercising. I never feel like cooking healthy food. I would rather have dentures than go to the dentist!
At the end of the day, I know that even though I don’t feel like doing any of these things at the moment, I am CERTAIN I will be glad that I did later on.
So just DO IT.
Big surprise right? We are so used to giving our lives away for the person we are caring for, the minute we finally get what we want and have some special thing for ourselves we feel SO GUILTY.
This for me was asking for help. If I ever had to ask a friend or family member for help I felt sick about it for DAYS. How dumb is that? They offered to help. They wanted to help. They were so happy when I finally let them help. What was my hang-up?
Personally, through lots of self-discovery, I believe my issue is generational. I’ve learned that we “gen x-ers” tend to be lousy at asking for help.
This is something I work on daily. I have noticed that guilt is a wasted emotion. It serves no purpose other than to steal my joy. So I have nearly eliminated it from my life.
I recommend you do the same.
On a serious note and as a healthcare provider this is something that I wish was screened with every unpaid family caregiver.
Depression is real. It is a medical diagnosis.
Caregiver depression is very common and left untreated, can put you and the person you are caring for at risk.
It’s important to me to cover the signs and symptoms of depression.
Loss of pleasure in almost all activities or favorite activities
Loss of appetite or eating too much (changes in weight that are significant)
Hyper or hypoactivity (moving slowly or unable to sit still)
Fatigue/loss of energy
Inability to concentrate
Thoughts about death, suicide
If you have any of the above symptoms, I urge you to reach out for help, immediately.
Often not caring for yourself, especially in the caregiver role, can be caused by clinical depression.
This is not you being weak, frail, just sad, this is an actual medical diagnosis. A chemical imbalance in your brain that requires medical intervention to repair.
For me, my depression presented as working non-stop. I found it easier to just keep working, at my job, at home, in the yard, anything to keep moving and not have to deal with all the feelings.
This is so unhealthy and not helpful to anyone.
With a shortage of mental health providers in most states or obscene wait lists to get in to see a provider, I encourage caregivers to find help online if needed.
Quality mental health care is available via telehealth now. So if you need counseling or prescriptions to help you get back on track, it’s all available online now!
In a previous article, I also discuss caregiver PTSD, which you can read here:
If you are looking for online or counseling via telephone, here is a reputable resource:
If you are looking for a provider to help with prescribing and managing medications for anxiety, depression, and even insomnia, you can find providers here:
For those of us in the caregiver role, we have been pulled in so many directions, sometimes it feels like just sitting and doing nothing is better than trying to improve our situation. I understand that with all of my heart.
However, life does not have to be less than wonderful because you are in the caregiver role. You just need to find your grove and take your life back, even if it’s just a little bit at a time.
As always, I am a real person and read and respond to all emails. If I can help direct you in any way, please reach out to me at: