11 Self-Care Tips and Resources for Caregivers

11 Self-Care Tips and Resources for Caregivers

Caregiving for someone you love as they enter their last phase of life is often characterized by contrasts. Gratitude for the time you have together and grief for the time you won’t. A profound feeling of purpose and resentment that it requires so much of you. Anxious about all that you can’t control and at peace with the inevitable.

All of these feelings are normal, and constantly navigating between them can take a serious toll on your well-being. For instance, between 26 and 57 percent of family caregivers of hospice patients experience depression — compared to about 8.4 percent of the general population.

An important part of avoiding exhaustion and depression is self-care.

What is Self-Care and Why is it Important?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), self-care means taking the time to do things that improve both your physical and mental health and help you live well.

You’ve likely heard of the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” The principle behind self-care is that taking care of your own physical and emotional health is critical to your ability to care for others. Putting your own needs first may feel selfish or counterintuitive, but it can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness and increase your stamina. All of these keep you healthier so that you are better able to meet the challenges of caregiving.

How Do I Practice Self-Care?

Self-care doesn’t look the same for everyone, but it’s important to recognize that self-care is different than self-indulgence. Everyone deserves a sweet treat or a massage every now and then. But self-care is about creating habits and practices that improve your long-term health. Some suggestions include:

1. Take time to check in with yourself and set manageable goals. Make calendaring self-care part of your routine. Examples include blocking out times for rest, times for exercise or time out in nature. Schedule breaks from social media and electronics, and learn to say “no” to free up more time for self-care activities. If your loved one is a Cascade Health Hospice patient, we offer volunteer help with errands, chores and short-term companionship to give you time to fit self-care into your schedule.

2. Get a good night’s rest. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), sleep is just as critical to good health as diet and exercise. In today’s fast-paced world it can be hard to get enough sleep — click here for suggestions.

3. Prioritize healthy eating and drink plenty of fluids. Healthy eating can be a challenge for all of us, especially when we are short on time and faced with temptations. Rather than trying to completely cut sugar or go vegan after a lifetime of meat and potatoes, start with small, manageable goals for success. Try committing to shopping for the entire week and planning meals. Substitute all processed grains for whole grains. Start your day with a healthy breakfast. Or prepare healthy meals and snacks in advance. Click here for cooking tips for caregivers from the American Heart Association.

4. Exercise. Try to schedule exercise into your routine, starting with small goals and activities you enjoy. Many people shifted from gyms to at-home workouts during the pandemic, so you might wish to give that a try if you haven’t already. Click here for a guide to some of the best workout apps of 2022 from PCMag to get you started.

5. Spend time in nature. If you find that you are more relaxed and in a better mood after spending time outdoors, you’re not alone. Spending time in nature has physical and psychological benefits. Whether in the form of a short walk in an urban park or a full day at the beach, try to prioritize time in nature with or without your loved one. You will reap the benefits.

6. Participate in stress reduction and mindfulness activities. There are many ways you can incorporate mindfulness activities into your day, large and small. While the demands of caregiving may not allow you to sign up for a weekly meditation class, there are alternatives. Try a mindfulness app at home or take a short walking meditation with mindfulness music. Just taking a few minutes a day to fill out a gratitude journal is one of the easiest ways to incorporate mindfulness into your routine. Click here for more ideas on caregiving mindfulness from the AARP.

7. Lean into your support network and maintain connections. You may find it difficult to invest time in outside relationships when caregiving. But maintaining some support network is essential for your well-being. Click here for a good article on the value of social support for family caregivers from AgingCare. And don’t forget to take advantage of the support hospice provides. Cascade Health Hospice’s social workers can connect you to helpful resources in the community, our chaplains offer spiritual counsel to you and your loved one, and our bereavement coordinator can help you explore your anticipatory grief and connect with other caregivers going through similar struggles.

8. Do things you love and explore realistic ways to nurture them. Maybe world travel is not possible right now, but listening to a podcast about travel or making scrapbooks of past travels will help nurture that love. Think outside the box about your interests and hobbies, and how you might consider nurturing them.

9. Be kind to yourself. This one may seem like a no-brainer, but be kind to yourself! Self-compassion is strongly related to mental health and a critical element of self-care.

10. Take a break with respite care. Caregiving is a physically and emotionally demanding, more-than-full-time job. Just as it’s important to take time away from a career job, it’s important to give yourself time and space to recharge away from caregiving duties. Ask a family member to take over for a long weekend, hire respite help or ask your hospice provider what respite coverage they offer. Medicare, Medicaid/Oregon Health Plan and most commercial insurance companies cover 5 days of respite care every six months someone is on hospice. At Cascade Health, we provide around-the-clock, hospital-level respite care in the beautiful, home-like setting of Pete Moore Hospice House.

11. Take advantage of local resources. Last but not least, check out some of these resources to see which might be valuable to you on your caregiver journey.

Here at Cascade Health, our mission is to improve the quality of life in our community by helping to support and provide quality, charitable, compassionate health care now, and for generations to come. We would be honored to be a part of your caregiver journey.