Self-Care for Caregivers

Reviewed by Amy Baker Dennis, PhD, FAED

How to take care of yourself while caring for a loved one with an eating disorder

During the safety demonstration on airplanes, the flight attendants always remind passengers flying with children to apply their own oxygen mask before they place one on their child. Why? You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Being a caregiver for an individual with an eating disorder is not always an easy task. Your primary goal is to look after that person and provide them with an infinite amount of care, love, and support. It’s important to remember that caregivers also need support and to practice self-care. When you need to take time for yourself, here are a few ways implement the practice of self-care into your daily routine:

Check in with yourself. When caring for someone with an eating disorder, it’s easy to channel all your energy into them instead of yourself. It’s important to have frequent check-ins with yourself to see how you are holding up and what you need. When you first wake up in the morning or before you go to bed at night, try journaling to organize your thoughts and feelings.

Take time for yourself. Taking care of yourself is not bad or selfish; it’s a necessity. Say “No” when you can. Give yourself a break. Devoting just an hour a day to yourself can make a huge difference. Don’t take on any added responsibilities at this time. Keep in mind that what you do is a much more powerful message than what you say. Being a good role model for your child or family member during the healing process means taking care of your own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Maintain important relationships. If you are married or in a significant relationship, spend time on that relationship. Talk daily to your partner about your feelings and frustrations. Take time for a hug. If time allows, make a date for something you both enjoy doing. Seek support from family, friends, and/or professionals whom you find to be helpful. 

Ask for help. You don’t ever have to fight any battle alone. You aren’t expected to always know the next step, so if you feel lost, reach out and ask for guidance. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; rather, it is a sign of empowerment and confidence. It’s important to have a support system that you can turn to in your own time of need. Many find it helpful to join a local or online support group to hear from others in similar situations.

Ask for help with the mundane. Asking for assistance makes your friends feel useful and keeps you from becoming isolated. Make a list of things you can use help with like laundry, errands, lawn care, housecleaning, meals for the rest of the family. If someone says, “Let me know if there is anything I can help with,” show them your list of unassigned tasks. Ask what they can do. Allow yourself to be cared for. One of the greatest gifts you can give to another person is the opportunity to give!

Don’t be so hard on yourself. As a caregiver, mistakes will be made, but it’s important to remember that it’s ok to make mistakes and to not have all the answers. Mistakes allow us to learn and to grow, and they are a necessary part of our day-to-day lives. If a mistake is worth laughing about, laugh and keep going. We aren’t perfect and we aren’t meant to be perfect.

Go out in nature. Sometimes, just taking a walk around the block or through a local park makes all the difference. Bring some company or go on your own and get lost in the present moment. Getting fresh air and feeling the sun on your skin brightens your day and re-energizes you. Being outside can remind you that there is more to the world than the daily battles you face.

Make something. Whether it is your bed when you first wake up, a cup of tea, or your favorite craft, make something you can be proud of. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s an opportunity for you to focus on a single task and remind yourself that you are capable of creating something positive and beautiful.

Make a gratitude list. One of the best ways to get through a tough time is to write down everything that you are grateful for. These lists can range from something as small as your favorite coffee mug to the people in your life, but it reminds you that there is something good in every day.

Step back from the media. We are exposed to toxic media sources on a regular basis. Whether it is through social media or the news, we are rarely exposed to stories and images that make us feel good. The news exposes us to stories of heartache and disaster, and social media provides false images that we are constantly comparing ourselves to. Detox yourself from those sources for some time. 

Choose who you spend time with. You are allowed to be picky about who you spend your time with. Dedicating your time to people who will positively impact you and not fill you with negativity is extremely important. Additionally, sometimes the best person to be around when you need to practice self-care is yourself. 

Breathe. Meditation can be one of the most challenging but rewarding tasks. Even if it is just for five minutes, removing yourself from your stressors and focusing on nothing but your body and mind in the present moment can make a huge difference. It’s a chance to hit the reset button and bring back your awareness so that you can continue to help yourself and support your loved one. 

Explore your options. If you think you may need to leave work temporarily to provide full-time care, check out your options.  Learn about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA provides job protection for employees who must leave their job for family medical concerns.