Self-Care isn’t Selfish: Self-Care for Caregivers

Being a primary caregiver can make it difficult to remember to look after yourself, and even when you’re aware of your own needs, it can be tough to find the time to meet them. 

The way our society functions puts caregivers at an automatic disadvantage. Why? We no longer live in communities where we share the load of caregiving equally. We reside in our own little bubbles, and care can fall completely on the shoulders of one person. Figuring out how to balance your own needs and the needs of those you care for is difficult – especially because it involves the needs and the quality of life of another person. 

Caregivers generally spend around 20 hours a week caregiving, which is as much as a part-time job – even though 6 out of 10 caregivers also work outside of the home. Those 20 hours include doing things like driving to doctors, organizing extra help, cleaning feeding tubes, planning sensory-friendly activities, and going to IEP meetings. In addition to the tasks necessary to provide care for loved ones with disabilities, it’s important to note that there is so much bureaucracy involved in caregiving too. Things like navigating insurance, Medicaid, and advocating for loved ones within the legal systems take time and emotional energy. The way society is set up to fail not just disabled people, but their loved ones, is a form of systemic ableism.

The needs of the person you are caring for and your needs are equally as important. Being overly selfless is not only a disservice to ourselves, but it is a disservice to the person we are caring for too. Focusing only on the needs of others can make us resentful, frustrated, and exhausted – and none of these are good for you or for the person who needs care. 

So, why do caregivers, who give care to others daily, struggle to care for themselves and recognize their own needs?

  • They feel guilty 
  • It gives them anxiety 
  • A lack of time 
  • A lack of help 

Although caregivers often make the time to take their loved ones to doctor’s appointments, sometimes multiple times a week, they often don’t make doctor’s appointments for themselves when they need one. Statistics show that 72% of caregivers don’t go to the doctor when they should, and 55% say that they actually skip doctor’s appointments. 

Clearly, something needs to change. Joshin exists to alleviate as much of this workload as possible, but navigating the mental shift can feel overwhelming. Here are some ways you can start owning your self-care today. 

1. Remind yourself why you deserve care

The first thing to do is to say “no thank you” to caregiver guilt, and remind yourself that your needs are just as important. No one person is more deserving of care than another, and our needs are all the same: we need to be nourished, we need sleep, we need love, and we need to do things that we enjoy. Your needs are just as valid as the needs of the person you’re caring for. 

Secondly, you can’t care for someone else if you don’t make sure you’re okay first. There’s a reason that when you fly in an airplane, adults are told to put on an oxygen mask first before helping anyone else – even their own kids. Because if you run out of air, then you won’t be able to put on your mask or anyone else’s. If you’re struggling – whether physically, emotionally, or mentally– you won’t be able to adequately care for others. 

And when caregivers don’t care for themselves, the impact can be dangerous. 40 to 70% of caregivers have clinical symptoms of depression, and 25 to 50% of those have a major depressive disorder. It’s important to recognize that this is not the result of caregiving, but rather the result of caregiving in a society that is ableist, as well as what happens when caregivers don’t (or are unable to) prioritize their own wellbeing. 

2. How to care for yourself

We live in an age where the term “self-care” is thrown around with abandon, and it usually refers to having a luxurious spa day, or eating your favorite foods while relaxing on the couch. While those are great, and definitely have a place in relaxation, they aren’t what we mean when we’re talking about real self-care that’s going to make a tangible difference in the lives of caregivers. 

Here are some changes that can make a real difference in the life of caregivers:

  • Prioritize your own doctor’s appointments 
  • Nourish your body with foods that will provide you with energy and nutrients to fight off illness 
  • Ask for help 
    • This is something caregivers often struggle with because they feel as if others are unable to provide the level of care that they can, or feel anxious that something will go wrong while they aren’t around. 
    • Asking for help is paramount for caregivers because receiving help gives the caregiver freedom to do things like go to doctor’s appointments, cook nutritious food, and have time to relax and spend with a partner or friend.  
    • People you can ask for help include: family, friends, government health services, as well as your boss if you need help managing work and care. 
  • Hire help 
    • If you can afford it, hiring help can relieve a lot of pressure from caregivers. It gives the same benefits as asking friends and family, but usually means less organizing and is more flexible. 
  • Set Boundaries
    • Setting boundaries with care can be difficult – especially emotionally. Setting boundaries does not only happen with the person you are caring for, but with everyone around you. Sometimes it’s with friends who have high expectations, or with another family member who needs to step in and help with care. 
    • When setting boundaries, remember that it’s okay to say “no”. Children, in particular, have a hard time saying no to their parents and feel a sense of obligation that turns into guilt. But caregiver guilt is misplaced and can negatively impact mental health. It’s okay to say no! :
  • If you don’t have financial resources:
    • Speak to your work – there are benefits that they can provide to help you, like Joshin! 
    • Call your insurance/Medicaid and see what they can provide for caregivers.
    • Look for organizations in your area that could help. 
    • Join a support group to have support and solidarity – there is nothing quite like speaking to people who understand what life is like for you. 

At the end of the day, self-care for caregivers is vital. If caregivers aren’t having their own needs met, they will no longer be able to offer care, which puts everyone involved in a stressful situation. If you’re a caregiver, remember that your needs matter too – and don’t be afraid to ask for help! 

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