The importance of self-care for caregivers

Photo by Toa Heftiba

What was the last thing you did for yourself? If you cannot remember, you might be a caregiver. For many of us, COVID-19 makes for an uncertain future. For caregivers, COVID-19 has heightened an existing feeling of uncertainty.

It is only human to crave certainty and without it, feelings of fear and anxiety may become more frequent. Uncertainty in combination with increased caregiving tasks during the pandemic, can put caregivers at a higher risk for caregiver stress and burnout. Signs of “caregiver stress” can include declining health, a lack of energy (but also sleeplessness), and withdrawal from social interactions. When caregiver stress is unaddressed, it can build into “caregiver burden”, a physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from the caregiving role, which can become dangerous for the caregiver and the people they care for.

The hopeful news? We have the choice to recognize how we feel and address how we cope. And the thing about being human, is that we are built to survive. A great place to start is to look at the difference between coping strategies and self-care, and identify how you can benefit from both approaches to wellbeing. Coping strategies are practices that bring immediate relief whereas self-care is an on-going plan to support yourself. Both serve a meaningful purpose, though differ in when you use them.

When feeling overwhelmed, we might turn off our phones and pick up a book to dig into for an hour. This is an example of a coping strategy, which can help you through a crisis and provide short-term relief. We can transform this into a component of a self-care by designating one hour every night to disconnect and do something for yourself, whether that be reading, having a treat, laughing, or exercising.

Self-care can be explored in the following components of your life: physical, social, emotional, occupational (paid and unpaid – your caregiving fits here!), and spiritual.

This can be mapped visually by tracing your hand on a piece of paper and assigning each finger a component of self-care. Reflect on: What fills me with energy what depletes me of energy?

What do I have control of and what can I release control of?

On each traced finger, write down what each of the above self-care components means to you, your goals in that component, and activities you can adopt or are already practicing to achieve that goal. Consider: What are the barriers to supporting myself and how can I overcome them? What am I open to trying?

Similar to your caregiving journey, self-care is a continuous process of reflection and change, often requiring a lifestyle change, and it is not meant to be done alone. In your caregiving role and self-care, reflect on:

Who in my support system can help me with this?

In what areas do I need more support?

How can the person I care for help me?

You have heard it before and I will say it again (after all it has been a while since we travelled by plane), put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. And with that, my last question for you is: What will be the next thing you do for yourself?

Who is a caregiver and what types of support does JFSC offer? Listen to Samantha in Episode 12 of the Silver Shades Podcast at

“Alone we are strong, together we are stronger”

JFSC (Jewish Family Service Calgary) offers support to Calgary caregivers of seniors through education, group sessions and individual counselling. For more contact Samantha at 403-692-6392 or Outside of Calgary? You can explore local caregiver support services through 2-1-1.