Self-Giving while Care-Giving
Share this:
Facebook Twitter Linkedin Email

“Put your own oxygen mask on first before you assist others with theirs.”

How many times have we heard that from flight attendants before take-off? How often do we honestly do that in our relationships with others? Many of us, especially women, are known for giving to others; people are honored for being “selfless”. We need to listen to the flight attendants folks! It’s not a badge of honor to give everything to others and leave nothing for ourselves. If we focus all our time and energy on others, we become depleted, affecting mood, physical health, psychological well-being, mental acuity and reaction time. If a caregiver’s not at their best, it can affect their health and safety as well as that of the person receiving care. It is not selfish to consider your own needs while providing care, it’s self-defense. First, some definitions:

Care-giving = Managing logistics, scheduling, financial and legal issues; providing emotional and physical support; balancing day-to-day responsibilities with the changing needs of the person receiving care.

Self-giving = Building and maintaining physical and emotional reserves; managing oneself through ambiguity, worry, grief, frustration and exhaustion.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s parenting children, responsibility for elder care or caring for an ill person. A lack of self-giving impedes care-giving.

Here’s how some caregivers describe their care-giving experience.

36 Hour Days! Getting little to no sleep. Putting aside your normal life and balancing that. Being ok with letting things go, temporarily.

Each day has challenges, whether the challenge is a positive one or negative one. Regardless of the type of challenge, on any given day, being a Caregiver makes me feel a sense of truly making a difference in someone’s life and the people around them. It’s rewarding, it has purpose, and it gives texture and color to my life.

The responsibility felt heavy in my body. It was overwhelming and exhausting. There were times I had to escape to feel “normal” and like myself.

I feel like I am the central spoke of a wheel-not just being a caregiver…a mom, a daughter, a wife, a friend, a colleague, an employee. Care-giving adds an extra dimension to an already full platebeing empathic when at times I don’t want to be. I didn’t expect it to be the way it is occurring.

These descriptions suggest there is no one-size-fits-all experience of care-giving, nor is there a single formula for making it work. Someone once advised me to take a spa day and I’d feel much better. While I‘m all about a spa day as an activity, it isn’t the answer to the overwhelming responsibility of care-giving.  Even if you’re able to relax at the spa, everything at home is still waiting when you get back.

A better approach would be to put on your oxygen mask first. Consider how you can best fill the role of caregiver to have a greater sense of control, be less reactive and experience more satisfaction. Instead of a mask, let’s make it metaphorical cap – a “Self-Giving CAP”- to help you make important Connections, seek Aid and take care of your own Physical needs.

Tips for putting on your Self-Giving CAP


  1. Clarify roles and expectations with the person requiring care: what they really need, vs. what they would like. Discuss what you need, what you are capable of doing and what you are unable to do. Set boundaries that are mutually beneficial. Communicate regularly about how things are working, and make adjustments as needed.
  2. Connect regularly with trusted friends and/or family members to vent, cry, laugh or strategize. Go for a walk, get coffee or tea, go to a movie or discuss books, take a brief trip. My next door neighbor and I were caregivers at the same time, and met regularly on one of our driveways for what we called “caregiver support time”.
  3. Find a counselor or support group to process the overwhelming emotions and stress of care-giving. While there are many therapy options, I benefitted from Somatic Express (SE) therapy, which explores mind-body healing to aid with recovery from the trauma of emotions and stress that  become ‘trapped’ in the body.
  4. Connect to yourself. Take a minute 2-3 times per day to connect to your own body and surroundings to make sure you’re not ignoring your own needs. As a caregiver for two young children, my daughter says hours can go by without addressing her own needs, or she’s on autopilot and doesn’t remember getting from the start to the end of a task.
  5. Connect with nature – buy fresh flowers, sit outside while drinking your coffee or tea, watch a sunset, cultivate a garden or walk through a public garden.


  1. Outsource and delegate. If you are stressed or don’t have the skill for a task, identify people or resources to help—in-home medical help, cook food, clean house or take the person requiring care to appointments or sit with them if needed. People will offer help, so take it, and don’t feel guilty about it!
  2. Meal planning and home maintenance can be challenging while care-giving. You don’t have to do it all yourself, nor does it need to be done perfectly. Identify the 3-5 things you must manage in meal/home management and seek help for the rest. Order food in; ask someone to provide a meal 1-2 times per week; hire an occasional cleaning service or ask others for help with lawn care, snow removal, seasonal chores, etc.

Physical: Care-giving is like running a marathon at a sprint pace. Care for your body like an athlete.

  1. Find ways to literally take a breath – to pause and be in the moment. Practice deep breathing to calm down before sleep, or when you wake up during the night. Meditation or yoga can help connect your body to your breath and can lower blood pressure and heart rate.
  2. Try this practice suggested by a fellow caregiver – each morning ask yourself, “How can I honor my body today?”
  3. Nourish your body with healthy foods. Think of food as fuel.
  4. Try to get 7-8 hours of rest each night.
  5. Move your body everyday – run, walk or exercise with a buddy. Swimming is particularly good for loosening tight muscles and relaxing the mind.

The point of self-giving is not to add more stuff to your already full plate, but to invest your time and energy in things that feed your soul, lighten your spirit and refresh you – ways to figuratively put your mask on first, so you can assist others with their masks.

Good Questions for Caregivers:

  1. How does it feel to be a caregiver?
  2. What are 3 things you find hard about care-giving?
  3. What are 3 self-care activities that work for you?
  4. How can you put on your own Self-Giving CAP? What can you adopt from the list of tips? How can you incorporate those into your daily/weekly schedule?
Share this:
Facebook Twitter Linkedin Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *