A Guide to Self-Care for Family Caregivers

How can you practice self-care as a family caregiver, and how can it alleviate the various stresses you might face? Learn more about combatting caregiver burnout in our guide.

by Tan Jia Hui

Being a caregiver is a noble and selfless role, but it can take a toll on your mental health and overall well-being. With the endless list of to-dos as a caregiver, it is easy to forgo or forget about looking after yourself. Here’s a guide to 11 self-care tips that might be helpful if you are a family caregiver who’s looking after an elderly or ill loved one. 

Effects of caregiving on your mental health and well-being

Anyone could be thrown into the role of a caregiver unexpectedly. It is a huge life transition and requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice. 

All of a sudden, you need to become an expert in the condition that your loved one has and pick up a multitude of skills — from physical skills like personal care and transferring, clinical skills like how to tube feed and administer medication, to soft skills like communicating with your loved one. The hardest part is that all this has to happen as you are still learning to accept and cope with your own worries and stressors.

As a caregiver to a family member, you will always want the best for your loved one. But more often than not, this translates into unrealistic expectations. For example, you may give yourself the responsibility of improving your loved one’s condition and blame yourself if it deteriorates, even though it is beyond your control. Primary caregivers also commonly face unrealistic pressures from the people around them, which further adds to the stress and feelings of isolation and self-blame, which may cause you to experience burnout.

Often, family caregivers do not just play the role of a caregiver but also take on the responsibility of managing the household, finances, and other tasks. It is not just physically taxing but takes up significant time and is a huge mental load as well. Furthermore, the added responsibilities mean caregivers are more likely than others to neglect their needs and compromise other aspects of their lives. Many caregivers sacrifice their hobbies and even careers to fulfil their newfound caregiving duties.

The stressors of caregiving can also lead to ill health. The prolonged stress, physical demands, and uncertainty can contribute to the development of chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, anxiety, and depression. This makes it all the more important for caregivers to take care of themselves.

What is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that occurs when caregivers are overwhelmed by the demands of caregiving and neglect their own needs. 

It is important to recognise the signs of caregiver burnout, which includes:

  • Feeling constantly tired and drained
  • Becoming easily irritated or frustrated
  • Neglecting your responsibilities and needs
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Falling sick more frequently
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Finding it hard to relax even when help is available
  • Feeling like your life revolves around caregiving but it gives you little satisfaction
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having thoughts of hurting yourself or the person you are caring for

Caregiver stress and burnout are real — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Take frequent self-care breaks and reach out for help when you need it. You know your body best.

Self-care tips for family caregivers

There are many ways to cope with caregiver stress and avoid burnout, but the first step is to recognise that self-care is a necessity and should be prioritised. 

Here are some self-care tips you can try:

1. Prioritise your needs

It is easy to put the needs of your loved ones before your own, but remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Take time each day to do something that makes you feel content and relaxed, whether it is reading a book, taking a walk, or meditating.

2. Set boundaries

Set boundaries and communicate your needs. Learn to say no when you feel overwhelmed and delegate tasks when possible. Remember that you are not alone in this journey.

3. Plan ahead

Source: Pexels

When you are overwhelmed, it can be challenging to think of things to do for yourself. Try to set up a self-care routine so you don’t have to actively think about it. 

Alternatively, create a self-care emergency plan you can fall back on when the going gets tough. This plan should include simple self-care activities, a list of people you can reach out to for support, and words of encouragement for yourself.

4. Learn stress-reduction techniques

Incorporate stress-reduction techniques like yoga and meditation into your routine. These relaxing activities may help you reduce stress. You can also start small by taking a minute or two for deep breathing exercises.

5. Maintain your physical health

Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get sufficient sleep. Make sure to schedule regular medical check-ups to monitor your health.

With the multitude of tasks you have on hand, doing these seemingly simple things takes a great deal of discipline. Make your health a priority. Remember that you have to be well before you can take care of those around you.

6. Stay in touch with your loved ones

Humans are inherently social creatures. Maintaining social connections can improve your mental and emotional well-being. Make an effort to reach out to family and friends, whether it’s through phone calls, video chats, or in-person meet-ups. Sharing your experiences and feelings with others can also alleviate feelings of isolation. Who knows — they may have gone through similar experiences before and may be able to share valuable nuggets of wisdom and advice.

7. Seek counselling

Counselling is not limited to individuals with severe mental health issues. Everyone can benefit from it. Treat it as an outlet to safely express your concerns, challenges, and stresses in life, and potentially gain new perspectives and solutions.

Learn more about counselling and therapy here.

8. Practice self-compassion

Source: Pexels

Be kind to yourself. Caregiving is a challenging role and no one is perfect. Acknowledge that you are doing your best. Allow yourself to make mistakes then learn from them. Speak to yourself as you would speak to a family member or a friend. It is easy to fixate on the things you did wrong, but why not celebrate the small victories in your caregiving journey too? Whether it is a successful treatment, or simply a smile from your loved one, every effort counts.

9. Recognise and acknowledge your feelings

As a caregiver, it’s essential to recognize and validate your emotions. You have a right to feel a range of emotions, including frustration, sadness, and even anger. Acknowledging and accepting your feelings can prevent emotional burnout and help you address them in a healthy way.

10. Leverage technology

There are many tools available online to make your caregiving journey easier, allowing you to offload your routine tasks into digital reminders. From apps that can help to fulfil medication and appointment reminders, to apps that help you embrace self-care, technology can help you stay organised and feel less overwhelmed.

11. Ask for help

Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Being able to recognise your limitations and reaching out for help requires a ton of self-awareness. It is a sign of strength, not weakness.

If you need support with caregiving, consider respite care so you can take a break and relax knowing that your loved one is in good hands. If you need support with caregiver stress and burnout, there are plenty of practical resources and support groups available for caregivers in Singapore.

Practical resources for family caregivers

When facing caregiver burnout, you may feel isolated, helpless, and alone. If you catch yourself experiencing symptoms of caregiver stress or feeling like you are on the brink of burnout, here are some resources that can help you lighten the load of caregiving:

1. Caregiver training

No one can immediately excel in a role they are suddenly thrown into. It is normal to feel lost and unsure, but caregiver training can equip you with the basic skills and help you get started.

For those worried about cost, financial support is available. The Caregivers Training Grant gives you up to $200 to enrol in the training course of your choice. Learn more about the caregiving courses available here.

2. Care services recommender

The government has created a helpful caregiver resource page that recommends different resources for caregivers and for care recipients with different needs, from financial and social support to centre-based care facilities.

3. TOUCH Care Line

If you’re feeling helpless or need someone to discuss possible care options for your loved one, TOUCH Community Services has dedicated care coordinators who can be reached at 68046555 from 9am to 5pm on weekdays. In addition to the helpline, TOUCH offers a comprehensive range of services, including training programs and home modifications. You can also join the caregiving community on platforms like Facebook and Telegram for a safe space to share your experiences and receive support.

4. Caregiver support organisations

Organisations like Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) and Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL) are here to support caregivers like you. These organisations provide services and programmes, including training and education, guidance and counselling, and a range of resources to help you navigate the challenges you may face. 

5. Online caregiver resources

Check out the wealth of caregiving resources available online:

Support groups for family caregivers

Caregiving does not have to be a lonely journey. Besides having family and friends as your pillars of strength, support groups can be another avenue. Connecting with caregivers going through similar experiences can help you feel less alone and bring comfort. You can also share your challenges and exchange advice and tips in a safe and non-judgmental space.

There are many support groups available, both in-person and online. Take some time to try out different support groups and find one that you feel comfortable with and that fits your needs and preferences. 

One such group is the Caregiver Support Group organised by the Caregiver Welfare Association (CWA). Open to all family caregivers, the Caregiver Support Group holds three sessions monthly — two in English (art therapy and mindfulness) and one in Mandarin (art therapy) — as a platform for caregivers to connect and share information and experiences. You can attend the sessions via Zoom as well.

  • Tel: 64667957 / 64667996 / 67342991
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Registration fee: $15 per session (financial support available)

There are also different support groups for caregivers of individuals with specific conditions. Learn more about the various support groups available.

Do you need a break from caregiving?

No matter how busy you are, be sure to recognise your needs and make time for self-care. Besides improving your health, self-care ensures that you can continue to deliver quality care and can help to make caregiving a fulfilling experience for you again.

However, it’s important for you to know that despite your best efforts, sometimes, the best way to recover from burnout is to take time away from your caregiving duties altogether. If you wish to do so, there are a multitude of respite care options available for your loved one and your family.

Whether it’s taking a day off or taking an extended break for a few weeks, our trained Homage Care Pros are able to assist with your loved one’s care needs as you rest.

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[resources]

  1. Cleveland Clinic. (2019, January 13). Caregiver Burnout. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9225-caregiver-burnout 

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About the Writer
Tan Jia Hui
Jia Hui is a content marketer who loves helping others and hopes to make this world a kinder place in any way she can. In her pockets of free time, you can find her snacking on ice cream and fries with her 80-year-young Grandma at home.
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