What Do You Need?

It’s been a while since I’ve done a post for caregivers, and I’ve been surrounded this week by discussions about care giving.  One of the themes that I have heard throughout these conversations is the difficulty caregivers face in creating space and time for good self-care.  I know that the struggle to make self-care a priority isn’t unique to caregivers, but it does seem as though being a caregiver adds some extra layers of challenge.

Understanding What You Need

As a caregiver, you have often made choices that put the health of a parent, spouse, child or other loved one at the center of your life. When you are dealing with full or partial responsibility for someone else, it is easy to lose sight of your own needs.  So, let’s take a moment and do a quick needs assessment:

  • How much sleep have you gotten recently?
  • How regularly do you get to eat healthy, nutritious meals?
  • Where does exercise of some type fit in your schedule?
  • When was the last time you left the house by yourself?
  • When was the last time you got to spend time in the house by yourself?
  • When did you last have a conversation with other adults that was not about your care-giving responsibilities?
  • What do you like to do for fun?  When was the last time you did that?
  • Who is taking care of you?
  • Do you have a safe space to express your own fears and frustrations?

It might be helpful to go through these questions and actually write down the answers.  This is not intended to be a “scored” exercise–the questions are just a guide to get you thinking about your own needs.  Knowing ourselves and our needs is the first step toward getting those needs met.

What You Need

I know that this is the hard part of the equation.  Stating our own needs makes some people feel selfish (which I wrote about here).  Stating our own needs makes some people feel guilty.  For some people, stating needs gets buried under the list of reasons (often valid ones) that can stand in the way of getting self-care done when you are a caregiver.

There are many reasons that we feel like we can’t ask for what we need.  We don’t want to be a burden. We don’t want to stress other people out.  We don’t want to be perceived as needy.  We don’t want to be seen as selfish.  We’re not even sure of what we need–really.

But let me spin this around for you just a bit.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, our energy, empathy, and other resources come in finite quantities. When we pour them out without filling them up, we risk running dry.  We also need to remember that our loved ones are counting on us, and they need us healthy and capable.  The other thing that many caregivers forget is that they people receiving care can also feel guilty and selfish.  When we neglect our self-care, we are adding to the burden that our loved one feels, because they blame themselves for our stress and struggle.

So, we should be actively stating our needs, even as caregivers.  We should name our needs so that we have the continuing resources to care for others. We should state our needs because that is a way of reducing guilt and stress for our loved one.  And last, but not least, we should name our needs because we deserve good self-care, and that starts with stating our needs.

People want to help us.  We just need to give them the information and the permission to do it.

I know, I know.  All of this is “easy to say, but hard to do.”  So, here’s the challenge.  I want you to look at the list you made in response to the needs assessment.  Choose one thing on that list that you can ask for today–even if it is five minutes of alone time outside.  Try this for at least a week, just one thing per day.

I’d love to hear your best suggestions for stating your self-care needs in the comments.


Image credit: Image from libookperson via Flickr


7 thoughts on “What Do You Need?

  1. Hi Ann – Nice post reminding us that caregivers need care as well. I dont remember the exact details, but it is shown in research that caregivers get sick themselves after a period of time of caregiving, I believe it might be three years….so self- care is very important. Going out to eat, talking walks, relaxing, knowing alot is out of our control is important.

  2. Dear Ann,
    Great post. I like the needs assessment because it helps people get specific about the topics they have trouble addressing. Then one might be able to consider a way to begin to make some changes. And it is difficult, but so worthwhile. You can’t give what you’ve run out of.

  3. Great post. I have had several clients support their spouses through cancer treatment and it’s very, very difficult. They often feel like they should be spending every single moment with their spouses, but that’s so unrealistic. I like the starting points you gave, because one thing I hear over and over is…”I don’t even know what I need.”

    1. Colleen,

      I think that one thing many caregivers need is permission to take that first step of assessing needs. They feel completely overshadowed by the urgent demands of their loved one’s illness. I hope this article is one small piece of permission.


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