Caring for the Caregiver

Are you a  caregiver to one or both of your parents, or likely to become one? The best way to survive what is  sure to be a task filled with challenges is to take care of yourself, so that you can better care for them. Here are some practical tips on how to do just that.

You can’t anticipate what it will be like if you have to become a caregiver for one or both of your parents. Our Turn to Parent, by Barbara Dunn and Linda Scott, shows you how to work with your parent to become both caregiver and champion. It also offers honest and personal accounts of surviving these trying times, with practical advice on how to care for your parents and yourself.

No matter how busy you are, you need to schedule time to look after yourself. Caretaking can exact a toll on your body, mind and spirit. By making time to look after your own physical and mental well-being, you will be better able to deal with any challenges that may arise.

Eat Properly

As a caregiver, you probably get so involved in looking after others that you forget to eat. This is especially true during times of crisis. Start the day with a good breakfast and be conscious of your body’s hunger signals. Get in the habit of carrying snacks and water with you. Choose healthy foods to help sustain your energy.

Sleep Well

Make sure you get enough sleep, which will strengthen your immune system and help you to think clearly in order to make wise decisions. Try to keep a regular bedtime, and develop a relaxing bedtime routine. By identifying this time for yourself, you prepare your body for rest and quiet your mind for sleep.


Exercise helps re-energize you and makes you feel that you can do more. It can help you prepare for the day or help you relax in the evening. Signing up for a class can get you motivated and will prompt you to take time for yourself. Exercise will give you a sense of self-confidence and accomplishment that will carry through to your caregiving.


Relaxing can help you refocus. It can dissolve feelings of anger and frustration, and give you a fresh outlook. Relaxation techniques don’t require a lot of time away from your responsibilities. It can be as simple as escaping to a bath with a good book, doing breathing exercises for a few minutes or practising a hobby you enjoy. If you need help, find a class that teaches relaxation techniques or meditation.

Nourish Your Spirit

Just as your body needs nourishing, so do your mind and spirit. Spend time with family and friends; it will give you the opportunity to focus on something other than your parents. Don’t hold in your feelings—confide in a friend or family member who can provide emotional support. Actively adopt a more positive outlook by reading books with encouraging messages, listening to uplifting music or looking for humour in daily events.

Avoid Burnout

Looking after your parents over an extended period of time can be physically and emotionally draining. If you are feeling angry all the time, alone and isolated, or experiencing moments of anxiety and fear, you might be reaching the burnout stage. You may want to seek professional counselling, but there are also many small ways in which you can avoid burnout:

  • Identify signs of stress early, before they become serious (difficulty sleeping, headaches, anger and anxiety).
  • Don’t suppress your feelings; find a confidant.
  • Set realistic goals in order to manage your responsibilities.
  • Set aside time for yourself, even if it’s only an hour or so per day.
  • Join a support group to share your problems, and obtain tips and advice, resources, coping tools and useful contacts.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about your role as caregiver to friends and colleagues.
  • Take advantage of respite care, either formal or through family members, so you can take time away from your parents.
  • Don’t feel guilty when you can’t do everything.
  • If your feelings are severe, talk to a professional counsellor, social worker or psychologist.

Excerpted from Our Turn to Parent by Barbara Dunn and Linda Scott, copyright © 2009 by Barbara Dunn and Linda Scott. Excerpted by permission of Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited.

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