Women's Health

The art of self-care: thriving as a caregiver without burning out


caregiver finds calm in a moment of chaos

If you’re a woman, you’ve likely been encouraged to be a caregiver. Whether you’re a mother, daughter, friend, supporter, or helper, you’re probably a caregiver to at least one other person, maybe many others, including other women.

Have you heard the saying coined by UCLA social psychologists that women “tend and befriend”? 

Translation: we nurture and support others and each other naturally and readily. 

I don’t know how much of this is culturally versus biologically driven, but either way, it’s available for us to work with in the form of self-care, healthy boundaries, and burnout prevention. 

Recognize the signs of burnout 

Have you ever found yourself feeling completely wiped out, only to wonder, “How did I end up here again?” Recently, I found myself in just such a state on a Saturday morning. Despite wanting to be active, I felt totally depleted, and I simply could not muster the energy or will to move. 

The problem was, I wanted to go skiing with my family, but all my body wanted was to lie on the couch, curled up with a good book and a warm pot of tea. 

So that’s what I did—because my body didn’t give me another choice. That day became about self-care, which is vital for all of us to thrive. 

The importance of daily and weekly self-care 

Wouldn’t we all be better off if we allowed time for self-care in our daily and weekly routines? Much better than finding ourselves forced to rest and bow out at inopportune times when we’d rather be doing something more active or fun? Like skiing with the family, for instance. 

Examples of self-care activities 

Self-care can include: 

  • Preventative and proactive health and wellness care: medical, dental, and other appointments with healthcare professionals 
  • Hobbies: alone or with others—a break from responsibilities and often with a focus on fun, not performance. Could be active (skiing) or restful (reading, knitting)
  • Spa appointments: pedicures and manicures, hot stone massage, a spa package 
  • Retreats or getaways: alone or as part of a group 
  • Regular holidays: a long weekend or other break at frequent intervals. For me, that’s at least every one to two months 

Create a support network 

A valuable lesson I’ve learned, both personally and professionally, is that work and life don’t stop just because I’m not there. 

At work, the emails and requests continue to pour in. At home, the laundry and cleaning chores continue to build up. 

So, how do you manage your professional and personal life when you do take much-needed breaks? What can you outsource? 

Do you have a partner or friend open to a trade-off? It can take a load of pressure off if you’re not returning to a mountain of work. 

Professionally, I’ve learned that unless I have a colleague helping when I am on holiday, I will not have a fully relaxing time away. And when I return, the accumulated work instantly jolts me out of vacation mode. 

It reminds me that Clergyman John C. Maxwell said, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” 

I’ve learned the value and importance of a team-based approach at home, at work, and within my family and larger community. We’re more effective, balanced, and healthy when we reach out and build bridges of support. And living by example teaches others that they too can live the dream of achieving their best life! 

Putting your health on your priority list 

Steps to put your health on the priority list: 

Review expectations for your healthcare appointments with your employer or employees. It’s best if these happen on weekdays. Weekends and evenings are for relaxing, not healthcare appointments. 

Review your weekly schedule and commitments and block off time just for you. 

Even if it’s only 30 to 60 minutes per week, make it happen. Mix it up and try something new or just reconnect with friends. 

Keep stock of what can push you over the edge—what is too much in a day or in a week. 

If you commit to too much, you may become overwhelmed and unable to find the necessary time to check in with yourself, which can leave you disoriented with needs and desires, and fueling the cycle of unrest. Learning to say no, or not today, or not this week, will help you keep to a schedule that suits your physical and mental and emotional body. 

What is indulgent for you? 

For some people it may be a five-star gourmet meal or a holiday. For others, it is time alone.

 I love my family and my work, and I am grateful to be surrounded by people who love me back, but time alone is hard to come by, and unless you schedule it, it won’t happen. 

Even if you only manage to find a small window of alone time, it can recharge you unlike any other activities, foods, or drinks. 

Find your indulgence, and make it happen! 

Ask for help and build wellness into your routine 

Find the courage to ask someone for help or agree to share duties with a friend or relative, like carpooling or shopping, so you have some “me” time. 

Of course, there are retreats and getaways, which are great, but it’s better when we first learn to appreciate the art of building wellness into our days and weeks, even months ahead, recognizing each day as time moves on. 

Otherwise, retreats can be merely a brief reprieve before you return to the non-stop schedule that is keeping you from nourishing yourself in the day-to-day. 

And frankly, sometimes it’s unavoidable, and you end up needing a full-fledged day of rest and a break from giving your attention to others. 

These are the times when you must summon the courage to ask others for support. But know that by doing just that, you’ll bounce back to your restored self sooner. 

And by sharing your reality, you may well encourage others to do the same the next time they find themselves unexpectedly wiped out. 

Taking the first step 

What is one small thing you can do today that will free up even 10 minutes of your time? 

Go ahead and be courageous. Act now! I believe in you. You can do this! 

A healthier, happier you 

Incorporating your own self-care and building a support network are essential to thrive as a caregiver without burning out. 

By prioritizing your well-being, learning to say no, and asking for help when needed, you can foster a healthier, happier, and more balanced life. 

Remember, the best way to care for others is to ensure you are cared for too. So be courageous, take action, and embrace the art of self-care.

Dr. Bryn Hyndman, MD, is an Integrative Medical Doctor. Bryn is passionate about translating knowledge and sharing tools to empower others to design a lifestyle that serves their physical and mental health. She examines lifestyle with her clients through the lens of food, movement, sleep, purpose and connection.