Being a caregiver can be rewarding. But caring for another person — even someone you love and respect — is difficult. It's normal to feel guilty, sad, frustrated, or even resentful.

The experience can also be a challenge that leaves you feeling stressed, worried, and exhausted.

Learn to take care of yourself while taking care of others with these guidelines.

10 key caregiver coping tips

1. Accept the other person's condition, and know that you can't change it. 
2. Keep realistic expectations of the other person's abilities and limitations.
3. Communicate openly and honestly.
4. Set aside time for yourself each day.
5. Ask for support.
6. Create a plan to involve family members.
7. Be aware of your feelings, and let others know how you feel so they can help.
8. Keep an open mind and know that your situation may change from day to day.
9. Live in the present. Don't focus on the past or future.
10. Remember that you are not alone. There are many groups and organizations designed to support you.

(Adapted from American Chronic Pain Association)

Care for yourself first

As you take on more responsibility as a caregiver, you may find that your personal life suffers. In addition to stress, many caregivers experience depression, get sick more often, and develop chronic conditions of their own.

caregiver with woman in wheelchairCaring for yourself first means making sure you are physically and mentally healthy. Get plenty of rest, eat well (and regularly), and try to get at least a little exercise each day.

Remember that you will be a better caregiver when you make time for your own family, work, and social life.

Get support

You don't have to take on caregiving alone.

Support from family, friends, and community not only helps to avoid caregiver burnout, it also provides a way to share your experience with others. Be honest about what sort of help you might need, and be willing to accept that help.

Consider online and in-person groups to connect with others who may be going through the same thing.

Use community programs such as Meals on Wheels and adult daycare to give yourself a break when you start to feel overwhelmed. Look for additional resources from local government agencies, service or faith-based organizations, and employer programs.

Planning and education

Learn as much as you can about the other person's condition. Get an idea of things you may need to prepare for now and in the future.

  • What are the symptoms?
  • What sort of challenges or limitations will he or she have (such as bathing, walking, or eating)?
  • What types of treatment are involved?
  • How can you help to relieve pain or discomfort at home?

Have an honest conversation about the costs of care. Discuss who will be paying for food, medical supplies, gas, and other daily needs. Consider time you may have to take from work, and how that will affect your finances.

Talk openly about care decisions. Work with the person you're caring for — as well as other close family members — on an advance directive (a form that explains a patient's care wishes if the condition gets worse and the person can't speak for him or herself). This may be a difficult topic, but it's important to know what is preferred in case of serious illness or injury.

Caring for someone with chronic pain

As a caregiver of someone with chronic pain, you may feel bad or helpless when the person you're caring for doesn't get better. You may feel like you're not doing enough to ease the other person's pain.

But chronic pain is not something that is easily fixed. The best you can do as a caregiver is to follow a doctor's treatment plan and make the other person more comfortable.

Remember that pain is not always something you can see. And because you can't feel the pain yourself, you can never be sure just how severe the pain is each day, hour, or minute. Open communication is critical to understanding another person's pain so that you can help manage symptoms, reduce discomfort, and improve overall quality of life.

Learn more about being an effective caregiver.

Source: Family Caregiver's AllianceKaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites, or mobile apps., American Chronic Pain AssociationKaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites, or mobile apps.

Reviewed by: Benjamin Balderson, MD, January 2019

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