Self Care for Caregivers: Selfless Not Selfish

Working daughters often tell me they feel selfish when they take time to take care of themselves. Their elderly parent needs so much, how can they possibly put their own needs first? After all, they are not the ones who are failing, or sick, or struggling. Actually, many of them are. It’s just that the circumstances are different.

Caregiver stress is real. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, caregivers are at risk for depression, anxiety, weakened immune systems, obesity and other chronic diseases. Many caregivers I know are operating on too little sleep, too little exercise, too much stress and often too much wine (yes, there is such a thing).


But how do they find the time to sleep more, exercise, or make a salad? Especially when their aging parent isn’t their only concern. They might also have children, a career, a spouse, that all need something from them. “You want me to go to the gym, or the salon, or take a walk on the beach when my to do list is longer than U.S. Route 20? That’s not only impossible, it’s selfish,” they tell me.

Self Care for Caregivers Is Selfless

Self Care for Caregivers_ Selfless Not Selfish

Actually, it’s selfless. “Put your own oxygen mask on first” may sound cliché, but it makes sense. You cannot help someone else if you are gasping for air. Often, women become family caregivers because they are best suited for the job. They have organizational skills, critical thinking skills, compassion, and stamina. Admit it: you think no one else can care for your parent as well as you can. And if that’s not what you think, it may be what your parents think. If that’s the case, then why are you putting them at risk by setting yourself up to be unavailable? What happens if you go down and become the person who needs care? Who will step in and do what you do? If you look at self care from that point of view, that you are merely protecting a valuable asset for the whole family, then self care becomes selfless, not selfish.

Self Care for Caregivers Is Not Selfish

There’s another way to think about self care too. One that personally, I think is more compelling. Think of yourself as one of your family members. What would you do if someone in your inner circle was exhausted, stressed, run down, desperately in need of some me time? You would step in and help them out, because you’re a caregiver and that’s what you do. Now look in the mirror. Someone in your inner circle needs some attention. Don’t ignore her. That’s selfish. Give her some support. Be selfless. Caregiver, look in the mirror. Someone in your inner circle needs some attention. Click To Tweet

You might also like:

The Working Daughter Bill of Rights

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6 comments on “Self Care for Caregivers: Selfless Not Selfish”

  1. Carla Reply

    So much yes yes yes to this. I think about it dear friend I have who is a caregiver to her mother. Because I can 🙂 I’ve admonished her many times that saying yes to others is sometimes a dis-service to them. They don’t realize that she resents the yes because she’s in desperate need of self-care.

    • admin Reply

      So true Carla. I am glad you can be honest with your friend. I hope she listens.

  2. Meg Root Reply

    You make so many great points about caregiving and caregivers. I think many people views taking care of themselves as just one more “task” on an already full plate. Somehow, they need to recognize that exercise, eating healthfully, and getting sleep will fuel their efforts, not detract from them. It’s a tough sell–but posts like this are so helpful.

  3. Cathy Lawdanski Reply

    It is so hard to find the time when so many people depend on you. Was there last year caring for both parents before they died. But you are right, if you are the primary caregiver and you go down, who is going to do it? Self-care, any way you can get it is a must.

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