The Selfless Act of Self-Care

When caregiving for a loved one who is seriously ill or nearing death, taking care of yourself often falls to the bottom of your priority list. “I’ll be fine,” “Don’t worry about me,” “She/he is my priority” or “I have too much to do” are common responses given by caregivers when presented with questions about their well-being.

When your loved one is seriously ill, in pain or approaching death, going home to shower and get some sleep can feel selfish or frivolous.

Although staying by your loved one’s side is a wonderful and caring thing to do, doing so while neglecting your own well-being will end up negatively impacting both of you.

Caregivers who neglect their own needs run a high risk of illness, burnout, emotional or mental distress and physical damage. The longer a person goes without addressing their basic needs, the more severe those consequences can become.

The most selfless thing caregivers can do is practice regular self-care. Doing so will:

  • Ensure that they are able to provide care for longer without burnout.
  • Improve the quality of care given.
  • Reduce or eliminate the risk of prolonged absence from caregiving due to mental or physical illness.
  • Provide emotional respite that allows for more genuine and meaningful contact with loved ones.
  • Provide mental respite that allows for better processing of complex medical, financial or advance care planning duties.

Caregiving is a stressful job, so creating a plan or schedule for self-care may help by eliminating the need to make decisions in the moment. For example, if your schedule includes eating dinner by 7 p.m. each evening, you don’t have to worry about “forgetting to eat.” Just as you wouldn’t skip your loved one’s scheduled medications, neither should you skip or push back your self-care tasks. You should consider your self-care schedule to be inflexible and high-priority.

Here are some self-care priorities to keep in mind:

  • Shower and change clothes daily.
  • Eat three healthy meals per day.
  • Spend time away from your loved one.
  • Participate in light exercise regularly.
  • Get eight hours of sleep per night.
  • Talk to a friend, family member or counselor about your feelings.

Below is a sample self-care schedule.  You can make one yourself by downloading a blank self-care schedule template here.

Daily

8-8:30 Shower
8:30-9 Breakfast
1-2 Lunch
3-3:30 Take a walk
5-5:30 Talk to family  or friends on the phone
7-8 Dinner
11 Sleep

 Weekly

Mon, Wed, Fri Sleep near loved one (hospice, home, facility)
Tu, Th, Sa, Sun Sleep at home
Mondays from 4-5 Counseling
Thursdays from 3-4 Yoga Class
Sundays from 11-1 Church

Benchmarks:

  • Eat fast food less than three times per week.
  • Get an average of eight hours of sleep per night each week.
  • Eat at least one meal per day outside of your loved one’s home or room (at a restaurant, at your home, with a friend, outside).