For Caregivers

Care For Yourself

Caring for a child with a heart defect or someone with heart disease can be stressful. It demands a lot of your time and energy. That’s why you need to take steps to protect your own well-being.

Why, you ask? Caregiving—whether it’s for a child, a partner, parent or another family member—can take a toll on your physical and emotional health. “Caregiver burnout”—as it’s been coined—is especially likely if you have prolonged periods of stress and disruption in your life. In fact, studies show caregivers are more prone to depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other chronic illnesses than their peers, all else being equal.

So, although it might sound selfish, the best thing you can do for your loved one is to take care of YOU. If you are exhausted, anxiety-ridden or barely able to hold things together, you certainly won’t do them or yourself any good.

Infographic: Caregivers

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9 Tips for Caring for Yourself

  1. Put yourself first. This may seem unnatural, especially if you’ve always been the nurturing type. But caring for someone with a long-term health problem takes a lot of work and patience. Make sure you are tending to your own (personal and health) needs. If you’re a parent of a child with congenital heart disease, others will tell you it’s OK to take a break. Find a network of trusted friends and family that you can lean on from time to time.
  2. Find ways to recharge. Whether it’s through daily exercise, yoga, or other forms of recreation, you need to de-stress and reboot.
  3. Welcome distractions every now and again. Staying connected with friends, watching a funny movie and keeping up with a favorite hobby can work wonders to help you cope.
  4. Don’t forget to eat a balanced diet. Skipping meals or eating high-fat, on-the-go foods can zap your energy and make you more irritable. Try keeping healthy snacks handy.
  5. Get enough sleep. When we are overly worried about something, it tends to leave us tossing and turning. Try not to let the stresses of caregiving disrupt your sleep. Losing out on much-needed sleep can quickly add up, leading to health problems, injuries and lost productivity.
  6. Set limits. It’s OK to say “no” sometimes. 
  7. Widen your circle of support. You don’t have to go it alone. There are support groups for other caregivers. Don’t forget to reach out to other family members, friends and neighbors for help.
  8. Assign tasks to others and accept help. Now is not the time to be Superman or Superwoman. Learn to let some things go for the time being. Ask for and accept help from others. Come up with a “to do” list and start delegating; you can also refer to this when friends ask how they can help.
  9. Cut yourself some slack. If you catch yourself thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this” or “I’m not sure how much more I can take,” know that other caregivers have felt the same way. Don’t forget, being a caregiver is layered on top of all of the other roles and responsibilities you have. It’s normal to feel like it’s all too much at times, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Beware of “Caregiver Burnout"

Being a caregiver can take a real toll on your body, mind and relationships. If you have any signs of caregiver stress or burnout, it’s time to take a big step back and take care of you.

Have you had or noticed:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • A shorter fuse/quicker temper than usual
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Less interest in spending time with friends or family
  • More interest in drinking alcohol or using drugs
  • A loss of appetite/not feeling like eating
  • Trouble keeping up with your work
  • Feelings of resentment or anger

If any of these sound familiar, here’s how to get help.