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September 8, 2016
by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D

Self-Care: Taking Care of the Caregiver

September 8, 2016 01:04 by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D


Self-care can be defined as healthy lifestyle changes and stress management behaviors. The term was coined by medical and mental health professionals and became popular in the 1980’s. It involves choosing behaviors to aid in moderating emotional and physical stressors (Mienecke, 2010). It also means to self-soothe and calm our physical and emotional stress. The practice of self-care can involve exercise, relaxation techniques, psychotherapy, healthy food choices, yoga, meditation, and engaging in creative activities (i.e. music, art, etc.). While many therapists endorse self-care, few of us actually engage in the practice. Often times our schedules are too busy and we may feel that we have far too much to do to take time to care for ourselves. But the truth is, if we don’t properly nurture and care for ourselves, we will eventually burnout and become unhelpful to those that we serve.


Burnout was first introduced in 1974 by Herbert Freudenburger, defining it as the loss of motivation, a growing sense of emotional depletion and cynicism (Michel, 2016). Freudenburger observed the phenomenon in formerly idealist mental health workers at a free clinic in New York City. The once optimistic workers became weary and depleted, resenting patients and the clinic. Burnout doesn’t only occur in work environments but can also can arise in relationships and other environments (school, home). Burnout emerges when the demands of an environment outweighs the person’s ability to cope. Those in careers that are focused on caregiving such as teachers, nurses, mental health therapists, social workers and physicians are reported to experience the highest rate of burnout (Michel, 2016). However, athletes, CEO’s and other professions that demand too much of employees have been found to foster hopelessness as people struggle to meet unrealistic expectations of their employers. In fact, high job demands, low control and effort-reward imbalance are high risk factors for mental and physical problems. Ultimately, burnout results when the balance of demands, workhours and deadlines overshadows rewards, relaxation and recognition (Michel, 2016). Further, research supports that burnout can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac death (Bailey, 2006). It has been found to contribute to poor health problems, sleep disturbances and the metabolic syndrome.

Self-Care vs. Self-Indulgence

There is a difference between self-care and self-indulgence; though many use the terms interchangeably. Self-care requires hard work, perseverance and consistency. Self-indulgence consists of avoiding the hard work and substituting with quick fixes. So instead of walking a mile to release stress after a long day at work we may choose to reward ourselves with a huge piece of chocolate cake while vegging out on the couch; Or instead of seeking marital counseling a successful business man copes with the stress of a failing marriage by having an affair. Self-indulgence is generally a temporary fix and often causes more mental and physical stress rather than provide relief.

What Hinders Self-Care?

So given the research, what hinders us caregivers from engaging in self-care? In a Chicago Tribune article titled Attack of the Mom Guilt (Weigel, 2011), the author argued that one of the reasons that caregivers don’t practice self-care is because of the overwhelming feelings of guilt. Acknowledging that you need time for yourself may be seen as a failure by some people. In a driven, perfectionistic society taking time for yourself may be seen as selfish. As mentioned previously, many people confuse self-care as self-indulgence. Therefore, as caregivers, we may be less likely to engage in the practice of nurturing ourselves if we perceive it as pampering. However, when we don’t take time to nurture ourselves we can become short-tempered and impatient and negatively impact those that we care for.

Develop A Plan

Watson (2013) argued that self-care is not an option for caregivers and hospice angels. With that said, if you have fallen short on taking care of yourself, a self-care plan is necessary. However, it can be difficult to begin a new routine. Starting small with brief stress management activities may be helpful. A 15-minute walk in the evenings or 20 minutes of yoga can be the start to a self-care plan. Adding one healthy food choice a day such as water in place of a soda or a piece of fruit in place of a snack may be a healthy beginning. Lastly, getting enough sleep rejuvenates and prepares our bodies for the next round of stress. The prerequisite of caring well for others is caring first for oneself. As caregivers we must practice what we preach. So get out there and take care of yourself!


Bailey, D (2006; June) Burnout harms physical health through many pathways

Mienecke, C (2010;June) Self-Care in a Toxic World. Retrieved August 28, 2016

Michel, A (2016; Feb) Burnout and the Brain. Retrieved August 28, 2016

Watson, R (2014; Dec) For Caregivers and Hospice Angels, Self-Care is not optional. Retrieved August 28, 2016

Weigel, J (2011; June) Attack of the Mom guilt. Retrieved August 28, 2016

About the Author

Dr. Dawn Crosson Dr. Dawn Crosson, Psy.D

While there are a variety of places that offer psychological services, many of these services use a "one size fit all " approach to treatment. Dr. Dawn Crosson provides quality services that are tailored to meet the need of the individual.

Dr. Dawn Crosson has a clinical practice in Harrisburg, PA

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