Senior Mental Health

What Caregivers Wish We Understood about Self-Care

What Caregivers Wish We Understood about Self-Care

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“Self-care.” It seems to be the buzz word of the decade, with 2.55 BILLION results on Google.

And truthfully, it is important. Especially for people who take care of loved ones. That whole “put your own oxygen mask on first” thing.

Frontida Senior Living Facilities, including Frontida Assisted Living Germantown, provide you with posts like this one to help you live your best life.

But what does self-care really mean to your caregiving friends? And does meme-ing them “Remember, Self-care” actually help?

The Watered-Down, Cappuccino-with-No-Coffee Version of Self-Care

“Eat right. Get exercise. Take a shower, maybe do your nails. In other words, take time for yourself.” That’s what most of us think of when we talk about self-care. And for the average Joe, that definition might be enough.

But for someone who takes care of an elderly parent or disabled family member?

It doesn’t come close.

Caregiver Burnout is a real thing. And those little steps of self-care, while they seem simple enough, can be completely elusive.

Here’s why:

Problem #1. Bringing Home the Bacon and Frying It Up in a Pan Takes Time—and a Trip to the Store

Okay, bacon might not be the healthiest choice, but you get the idea. Eating right requires planning and effort. After all, ramen noodle soup can be bought in bulk and lasts for months.

Fresh fruits and vegetables need regular trips to the market.

Is Dad well enough to go with her? Can he stay home by himself while they go? Do they even have energy to fight the crowds and the shopping carts?

Problem #2. On Those Pins and Needles—Self-Care Can Be Scary

Time away from caregiving means someone else needs to stay with Dad.

Will Dad be taken care of properly? Will the substitute know what to do if a problem arises? Will an hour away create a stressful mess for the whole week after?

Problem #3. They’re Takin’ Care of Business—with No Comp Time

Grabbing a few minutes of exercise may not sound like a big deal to you or me, but caregivers who don’t operate out of an assisted living or memory care facility can’t count on a lunchbreak. And it’s rarely just a 9 to 5 job.

  • The phone calls alone can take up a good chunk of the day—to the doctor, insurance, pharmacist, medical equipment supplier, insurance, bank, financial planner, insurance, … Because rarely can a problem be solved with just one phone call.
  • Of course, then there’s the medical appointments themselves. Getting Dad ready for them. Getting him there. Waiting to see the doctor. Maybe stopping by the pharmacist. And then getting Dad home and comfortable again.
  • Special meals, pills, medical treatments, bathroom needs—all take time and energy.

Problem #4. That Necessary Game Plan

For caregivers, getting away to do something for themselves usually requires careful strategy.

Who will stay with Dad? Is that person qualified to do the job? What’s the best time to leave him? How far away is too far? And how quickly can they return if needed.

Problem #5. Just When You Thought It was Safe to Get Back in the Water—Plan B

Demands of caregiving can prove the ultimate in straying best-laid plans: Dad gets sick. Help falls through. No one got much sleep the night before…

They don’t mean to stand us up or flake. But arrangements need to be held lightly. Events, fluid.

Problem #6. The No-Plan Plan: That Off-the-Cuff—or Immediate Need—for Self-Care

Yes, despite it all, sometimes caregivers need to be spontaneous.

They have an unexpected opening to get away. Or they’ve just reached the end of their rope and need a break. Now!

Problem #7. The Misnomer of “Self” Care—That Two-to-Tango Thing

When it comes down to it, with all the issues caregivers have with self-care, the real problem is self-care can’t really be done by themselves.

They need help.

And we’re not just talking about someone to watch Dad while they get out.

They need others to talk to

  • About their situation, and
  • About anything BUT the situation. i.e. forgetting about it for a little while.

For caregivers, “self-care” is often about how WE can care for them.

So what do they need from us?

“Come, Mr. Frodo,” he cried. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” –(Samwise, Lord of the Rings)

Here’s what self-care for caregivers really looks like.

Care #1. Understanding: Give them grace.

  • Don’t give up on them if they need to cancel.
  • Do that mile-walk in their shoes. Offer to sit with Dad for an afternoon so you can see for yourself what he needs and how you can be there for them.
  • Let them know they can be honest about how they’re feeling.
  • Ask questions.

Care #2. Support: Be their strong shoulder—waterproof, of course.

  • There will be tasks that only they can do, but look for ways to back them through it. Offer to organize insurance papers. Do research online. Show up with their favorite full-flavored coffee.
  • Point them to programs that can help them, like the Imperfect Foods company, which delivers inexpensive, fresh produce right to their door.
  • Listen.

Care #3. Help: Take some tasks off of them.

  • Shop.
  • Make a meal.
  • Have a cleaning party.
  • Mow the lawn, shovel the driveway, drop off mail, pick up medications
  • Check out this post on other gifts ideas for them.

Care #4. Acknowledgement: Let them know you see how hard it is.

  • Be sure they know that all they need to do is call out your name, and you’ll come running.
  • Describe all the ways you notice them showing love and care for their loved one—and how you see them growing.

Care #5. Rest: All aspects of it—Physical, mental, emotional …

  • Sit with their dad while they grab a nap. (They can sleep easy knowing you can wake them if they’re needed.)
  • Offer to run to the library for books, movies, or exercise DVDs.
  • Take her out for a girls’ night. Set up a game of basketball with him and the guys. Let them go out together for a date.

Care #6. Encouragement: Again, emotional, mental, spiritual…

  • Send notes, texts, emails, snail mail cards
  • Just call to say I love you.
  • Look for ways to make their same old routine fresh and lively.
  • Be there. For hugs. And just to sit quietly when there are no words at all.

Care #7. Friendship: The REAL kind.

  • Grab take-out to share with them over lunch—Dad, too.
  • If plans to go out fall through, bring dinner and a movie for an in-home theater together. (Don’t forget the popcorn.)
  • Laugh together. Cry together. And if they need it, pound a few pillows together. (Nothing like a good pillow fight when times are hard.)

You Are So Beautiful to Me: True Self-Care Means Letting Them Know We Care

So what do caregivers need for self-care? No, it’s not a Meme.

It’s friends.

You’re a caregiver and you know it’s time for more permanent help? Frontida Assisted Living and Memory Care Facilities in Wisconsin are here to support you.

For more helpful posts, check out this list on support for caregivers.

Thank you to Людмила Александровна on for the featured photo

Elizabeth Daghfal
• 5 min read

Elizabeth Daghfal is a writer, teacher, speaker, and community volunteer. When she isn't teaching or writing-- Who are we kidding? Her husband and five kids say she's ALWAYS teaching and writing. She has a passion to help people who are struggling and is happy to say her shoulders are drip-dry. Born and raised in the South, she now lives in Wisconsin and loves it--except for the fifteen months of winter. Read more about her at