Caregiving While Taking Care of Yourself

For many Canadians, caregiving is a full-time job. And if you already have other responsibilities — a family and another full-time job — it's easy to put yourself last.

Caregivers should not sacrifice their own well-being and risk burnout. If you’re exhausted, you will not be much help to your loved one. You need to take care of yourself.

  • Prioritize. You have more things to do in a day than you have time. So focus on the essentials and let the other stuff go. The world won't end if you put off cleaning the shed today or skip hosting a party.
  • Delegate. You can't do everything yourself, so don't try. Ask other family members and friends for help with specific tasks. Ask your brother to grocery shop or neighbour to keep an eye on things while you take a break.
  • Get support. You may find that your friends have trouble understanding what you're going through as a caregiver. So seek out people who will understand — join a caregiver support group for a sympathetic ear and practical advice.
  • Get psychological help. Caregiving is intense, emotionally draining, and often isolating. Caregiving can put you at increased risk of anxiety and depression. See a counsellor or therapist if you are feeling overwhelmed.
  • Look after your own health. You may spend so much time fretting about your loved one's health that you forget about your own. Don't let that happen. You need to get regular checkups, eat well and get enough sleep.
  • Stay connected. A caregiver’s focus on a sick relative can strain their relationships with their friends, spouses and children. Make a conscious effort to stay connected to those you care about. You need their love and their support.
  • Consider taking a leave from work. For many caregivers, taking time off work is not an option financially. But remember that federal and provincial caregiving legislation allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick relative.
  • Stay active. Keeping up an exercise routine when you're a caregiver isn't easy. But taking time out of the week for physical activity will help improve your mood and increase your energy.
  • Forgive yourself. As a caregiver, you're going to get frustrated with your loved one and at times, feel angry and resentful. These are natural feelings. Don't beat yourself up for feeling them.
  • Remember your limitations. All you can do is help. A caregiver cannot single-handedly keep another person healthy, safe, and happy every second of every day.
  • Take breaks. If you push yourself too hard, you'll burn out. So try to build in small breaks daily and do something special for yourself every week. See a movie with a friend, get a massage or go for a swim.
  • Look into respite care. Respite care is a relief for caregivers who need a break. It may be the difference that allows you to keep caregiving. 

Taking care of a loved one is a demanding and rewarding journey. Caretakers need to take special care of themselves, be aware of their limits and seek assistance when needed to be able to continue caring for a loved one. For more information about senior services available in your province, please contact your provincial senior secretariat