Chapter 4: Grieving as a caregiver

Self-care for caregivers

I can feel how exhausted I am sometimes. I ask myself how I can I keep providing care and grieving all these losses without putting my own health at risk.It’s hard to ask for help sometimes, but I’ve learned over these years that I can’t do this all on my own. Now when someone says, “Just let me know how I can help,” I say, “Great, please can you pick up the groceries for us this week?” or “Can you come by on Tuesday for a long visit so that I can get out of the house?” That help has been priceless.

I try to do yoga or go for a walk everyday. It’s not for long, but it’s a part of the day that’s only for me, and it makes a difference.

Being a caregiver for someone with a progressive illness can mean that much of your time and energy is dedicated to looking after their needs. This can be very demanding and is often lonely work. It can also feel like your own needs – physical, emotional, spiritual – take a back seat as you provide care for the person who is ill. You might feel a sense of guilt for taking time for yourself or that it is too much to juggle while you are worried and caring for someone else.

With good intentions, friends, family, or healthcare providers might ask if you’re taking care of yourself. This can be a difficult question to hear when you have been prioritizing the needs of the person who is ill. You may feel that they have no real understanding of your situation and feel more isolated.

Finding ways to care for yourself can seem difficult when providing care for someone else. Practice self-care as a way to develop skills that will support you and your needs during this time. Self-care can take on many forms, but it might take some time and practice to find what works best for you. It can be taking a moment for a quiet cup of tea, ensuring you eat regularly, visiting with a friend, or making time to go for a walk. Part of your self-care might also be asking for help from others so you can have a break.

What may help

  • While acknowledging the very real demands you face, see if you can find ways to show yourself care.
  • What may be helpful is different for each caregiver, so allow yourself to explore until you find things that work for you personally.
  • Many people find that routines and rituals can make a difference. Look for small ways to look after your body, mind, and spirit daily, weekly, or less regularly.
  • As much as you can, try to maintain healthy eating and sleeping habits. Consider using snacks or naps.
  • Seek out the support that you need. Think of this as an investment: It may take time but can be very worthwhile. If leaving the house isn’t possible, explore online resources.
  • Take a moment at the start or end of each day to do something mindfully, such as having a cup of tea, praying or meditating, or simply breathing.
  • If you feel irritated by questions about your self-care, think about why and consider planning a response that you can use in the future. For example, “Part of my self-care plan is asking for help. Would you be willing to…?”
  • Try listening to a mindfulness practice or a brief meditation, which can help to calm or relax you, to refresh or reframe your thoughts, or to improve your sleep.
  • If possible, do some physical activity, even if limited: Go for short walks, alone or with a friend; take an exercise, yoga, or dance class, in-person or online; walk in place; or stretch in front of the TV.
  • View self-care not as a “fix-all” but as a way of making a very difficult situation a little less difficult.

Helpful resources
Module 7 – Caring for yourself –
Module 8 – Do I need more help and where do I find it –