Tips for Taking Care of Yourself When You're a Caregiver

Two women stretching in a gym.

When your spouse has been severely injured or is battling an on-going illness, you may find yourself as a caregiver. Over time, the stress of helping another can cause compassion fatigue. Symptoms of compassion fatigue include:

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Irritability
  • Impaired judgment and behavior
  • Isolation and loss of morale
  • Depression
  • Loss of self-worth
  • Loss of hope
  • Anger
  • Anxiety

Preventing compassion fatigue

It's important to check in with yourself regularly and note how you are feeling. Compassion fatigue can come on suddenly or build gradually over time. Many caregivers report feeling disconnected or numb as a first sign of compassion fatigue. Pay attention to your body and your moods and find time to take care of yourself too. Left untreated, compassion fatigue can lead to burnout and other conditions that may not go away on their own. Here are some things you can do to prevent compassion fatigue:

  • Exercise regularly. Physical strength and health directly relate to your mental health.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Meal planning involving healthy foods will help prevent you from choosing fast food at the last minute. Plan to eat well to prevent weight gain and increased fatigue.
  • Take a few moments each day just for you. Find a quiet place in your home, walk around the neighborhood or call a friend. Make it a priority to do something just for you as often as you can.
  • Resist feelings of guilt. It's easy to be consumed with caring for your loved one and taking time for yourself can spark feelings of guilt. Remind yourself that you can only provide great care when you're at your best.
  • Seek outside support. Friends and family can be wonderful sources of emotional support, but it can be a relief to spend time with others who understand your situation. Learn more about caregiver support resources. Virtual PEER forums are another option for those in remote locations.
  • Say "yes" when someone offers assistance. Don't be shy about accepting help. Let others feel good about supporting you. It's smart to have a list ready of small but specific tasks that others could easily take care of, such as picking up groceries or medications or fixing a long-neglected repair job.
  • Know when to ask for help. If you feel that you need additional help, there are resources for service members and their families, including free, confidential non-medical counseling and specialty consultations for wounded warriors available through Military OneSource. Speaking with a Military OneSource consultant at 800-342-9647 can help point you in the right direction.
  • Stay connected to your community. Isolation sometimes feels like the easier choice when your life revolves around health care in your home. But cutting your friends and family out of your schedule may make you feel alone and increase your sadness. Let them know you may need encouragement to spend time with them and ask them to check in on you regularly.
  • Celebrate yourself. Being a caregiver can feel lonely at times, and you may feel unappreciated. But caring for an injured loved one while also tending to the needs of your family is amazing. Celebrate that you have risen to the challenge and made a difference.
  • Cultivate a hobby. This might not seem realistic with the little bit of free time that you have, but you can find ways to weave a creative outlet into your life. You could take a yoga class once a week, or a painting class once a month or pick up your camera and finally learn how to use it. Doing something you love-no matter how little time you can spend boosts your well-being.

The key to resiliency amidst the challenges of caretaking is to be mindful of your own health. Be willing to ask for help when you need it, seek professional help if you are unsure of what to do next and take time for yourself.


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