The importance of self-care for caregivers

A caregiver is usually described as someone who provides unpaid care to a spouse, partner, family member, friend, or neighbor. It’s an activity that happens with all generations, racial groups, income and educational levels, family types, gender identities, and sexual orientations.

A study by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)  found that most caregivers of adults care for a relative (89%), typically a parent or parent-in-law (50%), spouse or partner (12%), grandparent or grandparent-in-law (8%), or adult child (6%), though 10% provide care to a friend or neighbor.

More and more people are caregivers

The NAC and AARP study also found that the number of caregivers in the United States rose from 43.5 million in 2015 to 53 million in 2020. Family caregivers now represent more than one in five Americans and, with an aging population, the demand for caregiving continues to rise.

Caregiving can be a rewarding experience that builds bonds between generations, and many caregivers feel their role gives them a sense of purpose. However, these positive feelings go hand in hand with physical and emotional strain. According to the NAC and AARP study on caregivers:

  • 1 in 4 reports being in fair or poor health.
  • 1 in 4 finds it difficult to take care of their own health.
  • 1 in 4 says caregiving has made their own health worse.
  • 1 in 5 reports feeling alone.

Self-care for caregivers

There’s one more person a caregiver needs to care for — themself. To be the best caregiver you can be, you have to recognize the importance of your own needs. Then, you have to fulfill those needs.

On some days, having the time and energy to care for yourself may seem impossible. Keep trying. Little by little, you can work in opportunities to improve your emotional and physical health.

Six self-care tips for caregivers

1. Create a support system

A caregiver’s world can feel lonely. Keep those valuable adult friendships and connections going strong. Reach out to family and friends who can provide emotional and practical support and ask them to help with household chores, meal preparation, shopping, and errands. You may be pleasantly surprised how willing people are to help.

2. Eat well, exercise, and get plenty of rest

This is good advice for everyone, but especially for a caregiver. Do your best to maintain a healthy diet, an exercise routine, and a regular sleep schedule. This will all contribute to better health.

3. Share your feelings

It’s important to be aware of your emotional health. Share your feelings with family members, friends, other caregivers, or in a support group. It can help provide relief from the stress you may be feeling and lighten the load of your concerns. Don’t think twice about seeking professional help if you think you need it. To take a free, anonymous, and confidential mental health screening, visit Mental Health America .

4. Give yourself permission to cry

Research has found that crying releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that help reduce physical and emotional pain. Crying can also bring about closeness and support from friends and family. Crying can be a sign of healing too, so let yourself cry.

5. Relax

Make time to relax, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Try activities that can help reduce stress and allow you to find a sense of calm, such as stretching, having a cup of tea, listening to music, talking with a friend, closing your eyes, deep breathing, and practicing mindfulness.

6. Do what makes you happy

Take the time to do things that are important to you. Hobbies and other activities you like can help you forget your worries and be in the moment. You’re likely to find that after doing something you love, you’re refreshed and ready to take on what comes next.