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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

Keep yourself from "running out of gas" as a caregiver

Paying attention to your own needs isn’t selfish

If you find yourself spending a lot of time looking after someone, it can be easy to ignore the toll that it may be taking on you. Routinely placing someone else’s needs ahead of your own can have a negative impact on your health. Remember: if you get sick, you’ll be of little use to the person you’re trying to help. Paying attention to your own needs isn’t selfish; it actually makes you a better, more resilient caregiver.

Marnie Wedlake – Information, Support & Education Services and Mental Health Public Educator for the Canadian Mental Health Association in London-Middlesex – put it this way when she was interviewed by the in 2014: “If I need 60 litres of gas to get to my destination and I’ve already used 50 litres and refuse to stop for gas, I might not get to my destination. Or I might have to get out and push the car. As a caregiver, you need to pay attention to these signals and refuel. You have to figure out what works for you.”

“Self-care is huge,” says Rick Lauber, author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians (in his 2013 interview with “If you don’t effectively care for yourself, you can’t effectively take care of someone else. But this is much easier said than done.”


Figuring out what works for you

Imagining how to take time for yourself can be hard when you’re in the middle of a caregiving relationship that demands so much of you. Primary caregivers may feel that no one will do as good a job as they can and may fear something bad will happen if they step away for even a second. In that case, making small changes is a good place to start, suggests Registered Social Worker Nelia Amaral (interviewed by in 2013).

“(Primary caregivers) can start by having someone come to the house and they can go into the other room or have a shower and then work from there,” Amaral says. “Go down the street to a neighbour’s for tea or to the gym for an hour or do some gardening in the backyard. Whatever makes sense for that person to feel better and take those little steps towards having some time to themselves.”


Finding support services in your community

Because people typically don’t plan on becoming caregivers, they’re often unaware of the community supports that can help them lighten their load when they find themselves looking after someone. Terms like “respite care” or “adult day program” may be alien to them. They may assume that getting help will be expensive. That’s not always the case. provides a comprehensive, up-to-date listing of health and community services provided across Ontario, including programs specifically designed to support caregivers. Many programs are offered at little or no cost. Our article on Finding Support Services provides tips on how to most effectively use database to find them.


Involving people you know

Family members can play a role as well. But sometimes it’s not always easy to ask them for help. For pointers on how to approach them, read our article on Involving Other Family Members (coming soon) complete with links to the US-based Family Caregiver Alliance’s tip sheets on “Caregiving with your siblings” and “Holding a family meeting.”

Another option is to enlist the support of friends and/or neighbours. It’s often surprising how helpful people who aren’t family members can be when asked. Our article on Forming a Circle of Support describes Share The Care®, a step-by-step approach that shows people how to pool their time, efforts and resources to assist a friend or loved one facing a health, aging or medical crisis.

Finding Support Services
Involving Other Family Members (Coming Soon)
Forming a Circle of Support

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