You’ve heard it put a number of ways—you can’t water from an empty pot. You have to love yourself before loving anyone else. For caregivers, this kind of advice is paramount, and yet pushing yourself beyond limits is the norm. If you’re caring for a senior loved one, feeling drained and overworked is standard. Oftentimes, you’re undertaking caregiving in addition to nurturing your own family, hobbies, work and more.

However, all those words of wisdom are true. If you don’t care for yourself first, you’re in no condition (mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually) to care for another. Professional caregivers are taught to triage their responsibilities so the most pressing issues are addressed first. The same approach can (and should!) be adopted if you’re a caregiver for a loved one.

Caregiving requires incredible selflessness, empathy and compassion—within limits. These are beautiful traits that are partly innate, and partly nurtured throughout life. However, you don’t want to tread into doormat territory.

Here are a few ways to care for yourself first before focusing on another:

  1. Listen to your body. It’s an incredibly subjective and over-used phrase, particularly in yoga classes, but it rings true. If your body is telling you it’s tired, sleep deprived, physically/mentally/emotionally drained, or you seem to be falling ill more than normal, that’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down. (The elections aren’t the only stressor making Americans sick!) Removing some responsibilities or re-working your schedule is likely in order.
  2. Set new boundaries. Particularly if you’re not a “professional caregiver” and you’re taking care of a friend or family member, boundaries can get blurred. You likely have nothing in writing and verbal “agreements” are wobbly at best. Use the excuse of the New Year to talk to your “patient” and agree to terms that include hours per week (with timeframes), who’s responsible for what, and customized details that suit both of you. You might find supplementing with a professional caregiver or nurse is best.
  3. Prioritize reasonable self-care tasks. According to, the majority of caregivers are women (66%) and 65% of older Americans rely exclusively on family and friends for caregiving needs. Women also have a tendency to chronically put others first, sometimes to their own demise. Schedule some self-care tasks weekly (if not daily) to put yourself first. This might be taking a particular fitness class you like, spa treatments, going for a daily walk, or taking the time each morning or afternoon for a screen-free cup of coffee.
  4. Know when a professional is needed. Maybe you’ve been caring for a loved one for a long time, and they have no desire to bring on a professional or move to a care facility. As a friend or family member, it’s your responsibility to do what’s best for the other person—and yourself. It can be tough to see when it’s time to change caregiving responsibilities. Talk to a doctor to discuss needs, goals, and the best next steps.
  5. Practice saying no. You may have heard of elder abuse (which is often financial), but caregivers can also get taken advantage of in these relationships. Practice the art of saying no kindly but firmly. It’s not easy, especially if emotional blackmail is involved. However, it’s a big issue to watch out for when you blend the lines between loved one and caregiver.

Caregiving is perhaps the most selfless of roles, and one that many people find themselves in. It can also be very rewarding, but only if you keep balance in check. Make sure you care for yourself first and establish roles for everyone involved.

Source: TusitaStudio (Pixabay)