How Should I Care for Myself, as a Caregiver?

Updated:Feb 8,2013

As a caregiver, you have a higher risk for health and emotional problems. That’s because caregivers are less likely to attend to their own health by eating nutritious foods, getting physical activity and treating physical and emotional problems. It may feel like your first responsibility is to your loved one, but it’s really to yourself. Learn to organize your duties as a caregiver and find the time to take care of your own health. It will help you do a better job for your loved one.

Tips for Caregiver Success

The National Family Caregivers Association offers these 10 tips for family caregivers.

  1. Choose to take charge of your life, and don’t let your loved one’s illness or disability always take center stage.
  2. Remember to be good to yourself. Love, honor and value yourself. You’re doing a very hard job and you deserve some quality time, just for you.
  3. Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay in getting professional help when you need it.
  4. When people offer to help, accept the offer and suggest specific things they can do.
  5. Educate yourself about your loved one’s condition. Information is empowering.
  6. There’s a difference between caring and doing. Be open to new technologies and ideas that promote your loved one’s independence and help you do your job easier.
  7. Trust your instincts. Most of the time they’ll lead you in the right direction.
  8. Grieve for your losses and then allow yourself to dream new dreams.
  9. Stand up for your rights as a caregiver and as a citizen.
  10. Seek support from other caregivers. There is great strength in knowing that you are not alone.

How do I care for my physical health?

  • Be physically active. Exercise reduces stress, enhances sleep and helps reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Moderate activities like brisk walking for 15 minutes have great benefits for both you and your loved one.
  • Eat a diet low in saturated fat, trans fats and cholesterol. Chances are your loved one has been told to eat less fat to reduce cholesterol or weight. Why not make it easier and adopt the same diet for your whole family?
  • Schedule regular checkups with your doctor. A checkup can identify problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression. Early detection helps prevent serious problems.
  • Learn to cope with stress. When you’re really tense and uptight, try this deep-breathing exercise for short-term relief. Slowly inhale as deeply as you can. Hold your breath for a few seconds and slowly exhale. Repeat three to five times.


How do I care for my emotional health?

Caregiving can have a great emotional impact. It’s important to learn the signs of depression and get help if you experience several of these symptoms for two weeks or more.
 

  • Depressed mood
  • Marked loss of interest or pleasure
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Loss of energy
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Lack of interest in sex or personal hygiene
  • Anxiety
  • Tearfulness
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression can often be treated with medication. If you need help dealing with your emotions, seek out a support group, counselor or physician. 

How can I learn more?

  1. Talk to your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, members of your family also may be at higher risk. It’s very important for them to make changes now to lower their risk.
  2. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit heart.org to learn more about heart disease.
  3. For information on stroke, call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653) or visit us online at StrokeAssociation.org.

We have many other fact sheets and educational booklets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit heart.org/answersbyheart to learn more.

Knowledge is power, so Learn and Live!


Do you have questions or comments for the doctor or nurse?

Take a few minutes to write your questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider.
For example:

Can you recommend a counselor who will understand my needs as a caregiver and help me cope?

©2012, American Heart Association
 


Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

Heart-related Conditions
What is Angina?
What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
How Can I Lower High Cholesterol?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

Treatment, Tests and Procedures
What is Cholesterol-Lowering Medicine?
What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?
What Is a Pacemaker?
What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
What is a Stent?
What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery?
What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

Healthy Lifestyle and Risk Reduction
How Can I Manage My Weight?
How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Read "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?