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Taking Care of YOU: 5 New Year’s Resolutions for Caregivers

self care

Author: Annette Fields

A New Year is upon us and the world is abuzz with new resolutions. This is the time of year people make meaningful goals like increasing their exercise, eating healthily, or finally tackling that giant reading list of books.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who is a caregiver, your resolutions might look a little different this year. According to research from VITAS Healthcare, 32% of caregivers describe their experience as stressful. After more than a decade of leading teams in senior living communities, I know all too well the prevalence of caregiver burnout.

Resolutions as a caregiver can be challenging because they feel selfish – but the less we take care of ourselves, the less we are able to provide purposeful care to others. Self-care for caregivers is essential. I’d like to offer five potential New Year’s resolutions that may help you improve your overall wellbeing.

Engage in acts of self-care

Effective self-care is all about execution and ‘self-care’ means different things for individuals. There are things we can do for ourselves to provide both more immediate and longer-term stress relief. However, for many of us, true self-care might include canceling plans when we are too tired, asking for help when we didn’t know what to do next, and saying ‘no’ to obligations when we feel overwhelmed.

To create a helpful self-care routine, experts from Everyday Health shared their best tips:

  • Prioritize what makes you feel centered: This will always look a little different for everyone. Write down a list of things that you enjoy – a few hours alone with a book, a walk outside, even some simple downtime by yourself to inspire you.
  • Consider ways to incorporate self-care into your life: A week in Bali would undoubtedly make anyone feel more relaxed, but that may not be a feasible way to incorporate self-care. Instead, consider smaller goals (at least one day off every five days, a self-care activity when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, etc.)
  • Keep things flexible: Plans are just that – plans. You may embark on a self-care regime and realize it’s not effective for you or perhaps find an activity that you enjoy more. Be flexible with your schedule, and don’t get discouraged if your initial plan doesn’t quite work out.

Create a system to monitor your energy to avoid burnout.

According to Healthline, if you’re exhausted all the time, feel isolated from the world, and find yourself getting irritable, it may be time to consider implementing an active system to avoid burnout.

So, where do you start? Here’s a story about a daughter caring for her aging mother. She had a list of activities that she enjoyed, and implemented a three-strike rule: if she felt frustrated, hopeless, or exhausted for three days in a row, she would schedule a self-care activity, such as:

  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Attending her weekly book club (this caregiver was an avid reader)

When those activities didn’t help, she took the day off. Simple as that! While this system may not work for everyone, you can embrace its spirit by focusing on recognizing signs of burnout in yourself and honoring your feelings in a meaningful way.

Find help when you need it.

As a caregiver, it’s easy to forget to care for ourselves. Some caregivers feel it is a sign of weakness to ask for help, but that is simply not the case! I firmly believe that every caregiver should have a support system that includes:

  • A medical professional to offer advice and opinions on your loved one
  • An organization of other caregivers to provide support from an ear that knows what you’re going through
  • A friend or family member who can step in and take over caregiving duties when they feel overwhelming

Don’t feel limited by these suggestions, though – caring for your loved one takes a village, and it is vital to ask for the help you need when necessary.

Create a positive mantra when I feel guilty.

Guilt is a universal experience for many caregivers.  Many of feel we aren’t giving enough attention to jobs or family, and vice-versa. It can seem like there is no way to win, which is why it’s important to reframe your needs.  The experts at Aging Care have a fantastic set of mantras to repeat to yourself when you need some reminding:

  • When I feel imperfect, I will remind myself that perfection is impossible – I am doing my best in these circumstances.
  • When I feel frustrated, I will remind myself that my loved one didn’t choose this way of life for themselves. However, I didn’t choose this life for them either, so I will not be a martyr to their illness.
  • When I feel overwhelmed, I will remind myself that taking care of myself and stepping back isn’t selfish. I cannot pour from an empty cup and taking care of my needs benefits everyone – especially my loved one.

Allow yourself to not keep these resolutions or keep them partway

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made resolutions that lasted only halfway into January. I would miss an opportunity for self-care, snap at my loved one, and eventually disregard the resolution completely because it just seemed too hard. I didn’t wake up on January 1st as a perfect person, and neither did you. It takes time to make changes, and some of the most lasting changes are incremental. So, consider this full permission to make mistakes and meet yourself where you are.

About the author

self-care for caregivers

Annette Fields is the executive director of Vineyard Johns Creek, an assisted living community in Johns Creek, Ga. specializing in care for those suffering with memory loss. Vineyard Johns Creek is one of several Vineyard Senior Living properties in the United States. Annette has nearly fifteen years’ experience in healthcare and senior living.

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