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Caregiver Support: Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others – 11 Top Tips

Published on November 25, 2021 by Sharon Morrisette

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Caregiver stress is very common due to the relentless physical, mental and emotional demands involved in caring for others. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for caregivers to become so involved in caring for their clients/patients that they forget to take good care of themselves.

Caregiver stress has become an even greater issue during the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated the challenges they already faced, with over 20% of caregivers reporting that their health has suffered as a result of their caregiver role and responsibilities during this time.

It is important to remember that a certain amount of stress is normal in today’s world and something that every caregiver will experience – and can learn to manage.

However, when stress starts to affect your health and quality of life, you need to acknowledge and address it as soon as possible. Too much stress, especially if it continues over prolonged periods, can have serious, detrimental effects on your overall health.

Signs of caregiver stress

As a caregiver, it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on your clients/patients and their needs so closely that you forget to pay attention to your own health and wellbeing.

Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of caregiver stress that you need to pay attention to, before it gets out of hand:

  • Feeling anxiety, irritability, and depression.
  • Feeling constantly worried or overwhelmed.
  • Feeling tired and sluggish often.
  • Sleeping too much or not enough.
  • Overreacting to minor issues.
  • Experiencing new or deteriorating health problems.
  • Concentration issues, difficulty staying focused.
  • Feeling isolated and/or lonely.
  • Feeling frustrated and angry most/all of the time.
  • Eating, drinking, or smoking more, to self-soothe.
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications.
  • Overlooking responsibilities.
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyed leisure activities.
  • Experiencing frequent unexplained body aches and pains.

Failing to notice the signs and leaving things unchecked can eventually lead to burnout – a state of severe physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion – and compassion fatigue. If you allow the situation to reach this stage, both you and your patients/clients will suffer.

Managing caregiver stress effectively

Managing caregiver stress effectively

If you are moving into a caregiver role, or have been in one for some time and are feeling the effects of ongoing stress, consider the following 11 self-care tips to prevent stress from taking over your life:

1. Set yourself realistic goals

Setting realistic goals

When you are already feeling stressed and limited for time, taking time out to plan and set goals can feel like added pressure. However, sitting down to set realistic goals each week is shown to reduce stress and wasted time significantly and can get you out of an endless loop of crisis management.

Where possible, plan for the bigger picture first and then break this down into smaller, achievable goals. Remember to include other life areas, such as personal and family goals, as well as your career. Make lists, prioritize, and establish a manageable daily routine.

Your home care agency might be willing to include goal setting as part of a mentoring programcoaching session, or training days. It is always worth asking.

Whichever goals you choose, make sure that they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely – and be realistic with yourself about what you can achieve.

2. Take regular breaks

Take regular breaks

Like any other type of work, caregivers need to give themselves regular breaks – whether a quick coffee break or an extended lunch with a friend. You also need to factor in adequate time intervals for traveling between patients’/clients’ homes.

However busy you are, it is essential to factor these breaks and travel time into your scheduling to keep stress at bay. When feeling stressed, you might tell yourself that you don’t have time for breaks, but some basic time management skills can really help you to create more time – time that you can allocate to your own wellbeing.

In addition to these daily break times, try to make time each week for an extended break for your self-care to counteract any caregiving stressors. Self-care options are not always affordable on a caregiver’s salary, but you can do many of them yourself at home, for example, try a pedicure/manicure, facial, head massage, hair treatment, foot massage, breakfast in bed, read a book, hot bubble bath, listen to music, treat yourself to some flowers/body cream/new makeup. Whatever makes you feel relaxed and special.

3. Ask for support if you need it – and accept any help offered

Ask for support if you need it

According to the World Health Organization, research reveals that employees are less likely to experience work-related stress when: a) requirements of their work are matched to their knowledge and skills, b) control can be exercised over their work and the way they do it, c) support is received from supervisors and colleagues, and d) participation in decisions that concern their jobs is allowed.

To help you thrive in your role as a caregiver, your home care agency should offer these four support pillars, which include consistent and accessible support and supervision. This is vital to overcome the daily challenges and stresses of caregiving and to help you feel empowered rather than exhausted and overwhelmed.

Make sure you know who your supervisor is and what your agency offers in terms of support and assistance. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help when your stress levels feel unmanageable; it is actually the most professionally responsible thing to do. Working under stress can negatively impact your productivity and decision-making, increasing mistakes and damaging the overall outcome for your clients/patients – so ask for the help and support you need – and accept it when offered.

4. Ensure you have adequate training and ongoing education

Adequate training and ongoing education

Caregiver stress is often exacerbated by being asked to perform care tasks for which you have not received sufficient training. Training is essential to prepare for and respond to many caregiving responsibilities, including stressful situations, such as caring for patients with dementia, heart disease, or providing end-of-life care. 

Ideally, your home care agency should make training and ongoing education available and convenient by offering online sessions, mentoring, paid time off to study, etc. However, where this isn’t possible, you may be able to carry out your own research and find online courses that will help to increase your knowledge and skills, build your confidence, and significantly reduce your stress levels.

5. Get connected

Get connected

If you are lucky, you will be working for an agency that creates a ‘culture of connection’ by regularly checking in with their caregivers, asking you to open up and share feedback and concerns. Knowing your employer cares and supports you can go a long way to relieving caregiver stress.

Spending so much time working unsupervised, all caregivers need someone to talk to, who can listen, empathize, advise, and offer reassurance. If your home care agency isn’t providing this ‘culture of connection,’ there are other ways to create it for yourself…

6. Create a support system for yourself

Create a support system by meeting friends

Find others who understand the demands of being a caregiver, through a caregiver organization, online community, or a weekly catch-up meeting with colleagues. Meeting up with uplifting people, where everyone is treated with kindness, respect, and good humor – where you can ask for advice and support if you need it – will help you manage your stress levels effectively.

Support groups are a great option to help reduce your stress levels, and there are many support groups created just for caregivers. These groups provide the opportunity to share experiences and frustrations and include online groups that don’t require travel, face-to-face participation, or arranging for a substitute caregiver.

Psychotherapy can also be valuable in self-care and stress management. Connecting with a therapist who can help you work through issues and develop healthy coping mechanisms can be hugely beneficial. If you don’t know where to look, you can ask your clinician for a referral.

7. Practice a relaxation technique that works for you

Yoga - a relaxation technique

There are infinite options available for stress management and relaxation these days, such as meditation, breathing exercises, music, dance, and yoga. While they are all proven to relieve stress and boost feelings of joy and wellbeing, it’s important that you find one that works for you so that you will stick to a regular practice.

Just 10 minutes a day sitting quietly, breathing deeply, and settling your mind can make a world of difference to your stress levels – mentally, emotionally, and physically.

If you know you struggle to motivate yourself, join a weekly class in your community or sign up for an online course, so you have the support and encouragement of others.

“The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness.”    

Sakyong Mipham

8. Build and maintain healthy habits – set personal health goals

Healthy habits

There’s a reason airlines instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before attending to others – we are better able to take care of others when our own physical condition is secure.

We all tend to make poor choices when we are stressed, but taking better care of yourself, being fit and rested, and mindful in the moment, better equips you to handle anything the day has to throw at you.

Our bodies and minds are incredible at recovering from stress, but only if we support them in doing so by choosing and maintaining healthy life choices. So, in addition to regular relaxation practices, think about healthy eating and supplements, good sleep, plenty of water/hydration, moderate exercise, etc.

9. Get out into nature

Get out into nature

It has been scientifically proven that getting out into nature helps us relax, recharge, and feel happier. This is because we’re naturally wired to be outside.

As part of taking time out for yourself, be sure to take a walk, bike ride (or just sit and have lunch) at your local park, nearest beach, mountains, nature reserve, woodlands, or community gardens. Sit on the grass, look up at the sky/clouds, paddle in the sea – and relax!

10. Enjoy a non-work activity

Enjoying a non work activity

It is very easy to get caught up in work-related tasks and carry that over into our personal lives when we could actually be relaxing. Time to totally switch off, put your mobile away, and immerse yourself in something you enjoy is the antidote. You will feel less stressed and have more energy and focus if you take time out, distract yourself and give your mind a rest.

Choose something you enjoy doing, either alone or with friends/family, and try to make it a weekly habit. For example:

  • a trip to the cinema
  • a dance or yoga class
  • join a book club or community choir
  • a live music event
  • a team event, such as a football, bowling, or even a local quiz night
  • walk dogs at your nearest animal shelter
  • sign up for a weekly evening class for something you’ve always wanted to try, such as jewelry-making/pottery/massage/cookery.

Isolating ourselves when we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed only makes things worse. Instead, it is proven to do us good to connect with others, outside of work, and helps us to keep a better work-life balance.

11. Laugh


Don’t forget the huge benefits of laughing as a stress-reduction technique as part of your daily self-care. And it’s free! If you don’t have friends/family that are good laughter generators, find a funny TV show, comedy film, cartoon, favorite comedian, or follow funny people on social media. Whatever you enjoy that makes you laugh out loud is great self-care.

Laughing releases physical tension and stress. It has also been proven to boost the immune system, improving your resistance to disease. Laughter really is the best medicine!

As 2021 is drawing to a close, a brand new year is a great time to set new goals and incorporate new self-care routines/rituals. Small steps are all it takes, and over time these will become part of your natural, daily habits. It is essential to take time for yourself to rest, refresh, and recharge so you can manage your daily stressors and be the very best version of yourself.

“Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.”  

Katie Reed

By choosing just a few of these tips that resonate with you, that you know you’ll enjoy, you can begin to find (and maintain) your sparkle, drive, and passion – so you can turn up for work every day and give each client/patient the best care possible, and still have energy to spare.

Book them into your diary and keep that self-care time precious – don’t allow anything else to take priority over your own wellbeing. Then, take a little time each month to review how these are working for you and make any tweaks necessary. Happy 2022!