Care for the Caregiver: How to Look After Yourself

Are you a family caregiver? More than 8 million people in Canada provide informal care to a family member. The value of care provided by family members is estimated to save the health care system between $24 to $31 billion annually. Yes, you read that correctly!

November is National Family Caregivers Month. This special month aims to raise awareness of the contributions of family caregivers. Many people look after the complex needs of their parents, a spouse, grandparents or a child. But who looks after you?

Do you take good care of yourself as well as your loved one or do you put yourself at the bottom of your list? Does self-care sound like a foreign concept to you? Many caregivers share the refrain that they are too busy taking care of others to focus on themselves. We’ve all heard the expression though, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.”

How do you define self-care? It can mean many different things to different people. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as:

“Self-care is what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness. It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene (general and personal), nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure etc.), environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.), socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.) and self-medication.”

As you can see, self-care is complex and multi-factorial. It includes everything from brushing your teeth and washing your hands, to eating nutritious, balanced meals, to getting your blood pressure checked on a regular basis.

If you don’t already practice good self-care, there is no time like the present to start. You don’t have to make big lifestyle changes. It's all about the small steps that you can take.

There are many areas in your life where you can choose to focus your attention on self-care. Your goals for self-care may depend on your priorities. Do you want to manage your diabetes better? Do you want to stay within a healthy weight range? Do you want to prevent a chronic disease from developing as you get older? Maybe you want to eat more fruits and vegetables or incorporate more physical activity into your day by biking to work. Perhaps you want to quit smoking or start using sunscreen. Whatever you choose to do, key words within the definition from WHO are that ‘self-care is what people do for themselves.’

Self-care is vital to your health and you'll experience the benefits every day. By taking care of yourself, you are also ensuring that you will be there for your loved one. Many caregivers become ill from the stress and strain of caregiving. Don’t become a statistic. A few minutes a day to focus on yourself is good prevention.

Why not add one new self-care activity to your routine? What can you do today to help make yourself feel good?

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