Caring for another person is the most difficult responsibility you will ever have. While there are many rewards, there are also sacrifices, and demands on your time and energy will be great.

Because caregiving can be overwhelming, it’s important to know your limits. It’s often difficult to know how long you’ll need to provide care, or if your job will become more demanding over time. This job doesn’t come with a job description!

Caring for your own needs is as important as taking care of the other person. If you are sick, or if you become physically or mentally exhausted, you can’t care for someone else.

Common feelings

It’s normal for care partners to feel sad or discouraged from time to time. Ignoring these feelings won’t make them go away; it may even make them grow stronger. If you feel sad, include some pleasant activities in your daily schedule.

It can lift your spirits to listen to favorite music, spend a few moments enjoying the garden, or talk on the phone with a supportive friend.

If you feel discouraged, take one day at a time. Try to stay flexible and accept the things you can’t change.

If you feel afraid, talk to someone about the worst thing that could happen and plan what you would do. Planning for the future will help reduce your fears about the “what ifs?”

If you feel angry, take a break and leave the situation if possible. A quick walk can help defuse your feelings. If you can’t leave, stop and take a few deep deliberate breaths. It really does help! Focus your anger on the condition, not the person you care for. What can you do?

If you feel guilty, give yourself credit for what you do well. Be realistic about what’s possible and what isn’t. Focus on one thing you want to do better, and be specific. “If only I could make her eat” won’t be as helpful as “I will slow down and make mealtimes more pleasant.”

Take care of yourself

Talk to someone who can help you look at things more objectively: perhaps a friend, a fellow caregiver, or a professional counselor.

Keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. Make sure you eat a healthy diet and get some form of exercise as often as possible. A brisk walk is a sure way to relieve stress.

Be honest with friends and family about your needs. If someone asks how they can help, don’t be polite! Tell them what you could use help with.

Take a break. Schedule time away on a regular basis. To maintain your own emotional and physical health it is absolutely necessary to get relief from your caregiving role.

Get enough rest. If the person is awake at night and it’s impossible for you to get a full night’s sleep, you may need to consider in-home help during the night or an overnight respite stay. Lack of sleep for the caregiver is one of the most common reasons someone enters a nursing home.

Eat well. A good diet will give you more energy. Even one diet improvement can make a big difference over a year’s time.

Protect yourself against infection. Wear disposable latex gloves if you will have contact with a body fluid.

Be kind to yourself. Give yourself credit for the things you do well. Treat yourself to a small present when you’re feeling low. Take time for a long, hot bath.

Exercise. In as little as 10 minutes a day, and as few as three days a week, the right exercise will help you feel better, sleep better, reduce stress, and enjoy life more for you.