Family & Caregivers: Don't Forget to Take Care of Yourself (Too!)

Laura Taylor and Jeffrey Kreutzer, The National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care
Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself (Too!)

After an injury, many survivors and their family members feel overwhelmed by life changes and losses. Family members often say that they feel like all of their energy goes to helping others, and they don’t have the time or energy to take care of themselves. Others feel guilty if they take time to do something fun. Many people put others’ needs way ahead of their own.

Realize that you need to be at your 100 percent best to deal with the many injury-related challenges.

Why is taking care of yourself so very important for family members?

  • You’ll be able to take better care of other family members.
  • You’ll be able to manage daily responsibilities more effectively and efficiently.
  • You’ll be happier and healthier — and the rest of your family will be, too.
  • Your stamina, insight, and thinking abilities will be better.
  • You’ll get along with others more effectively.
  • You’ll be better able to think up solutions to your problems.

How well are you doing at taking care of yourself?

To find out, mark a T for True and F for False next to each sentence.

  • I try to get enough sleep at night.
  • I take time out to rest and relax.
  • I have hobbies or other activities that I enjoy on a regular basis.
  • I get together with friends/family regularly.
  • I monitor my stress level and emotions and seek support when I need it.
  • I ask others to take on responsibilities when I am not able to handle them.
  • I avoid taking on new responsibilities when I feel overwhelmed or stressed.
  • I let others help me.
  • I have a fitness or exercise program.
  • I eat things that are good for me.
  • I avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • I talk to people I trust about my worries and concerns.
  • I set small goals for myself that are meaningful.
  • I monitor my health and seek medical care when needed.
  • I give myself credit for reaching my goals and taking small steps forward.
  • I recognize my limits and adjust my activities accordingly.

Look over your answers, count up the number of Trues and the number of Falses. The more Trues, the better you are doing at taking care of yourself. If you have marked many items false, you may need to take better care of yourself.

What can you do to take better care of yourself?

We’ve talked to many successful survivors and families to find out ways they take care of themselves. Here are a few strategies that have worked for other people. Look over this list and pick out which ones you think will work for you:

  1. Remember no man is an island
    Ask for help when you need it. Everyone needs help at times in their lives, especially when facing new challenges. Let trusted family and friends help carry the load.
  2. Take time out to do things you enjoy
    Read a book, go dancing, watch a movie, etc. You’ll be happier and better able to cope with life’s stresses if you take time to do things you enjoy!
  3. Set aside alone time
    We all need time alone to re-charge our batteries. Take a little time out each day to do something alone — take a bath, go for a walk, write in a journal, meditate.
  4. Protect your health
    Eat a balanced diet. Get enough sleep. Exercise regularly. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Follow up with your doctors regularly and take medications as prescribed.
  5. Give yourself credit for things you accomplish
    Everyone likes to be recognized for their successes. Don’t wait for others to praise you. Reward yourself when you take positive steps or reach a goal.
  6. Don’t overload yourself
    When you take on new responsibilities, drop some of your old ones. Ask others to step up to the plate and help.
  7. Keep track of your stress level and emotions
    Monitor them regularly, so you can get help and support as needed.
  8. Remember that no one can do everything
    Recognize your limitations. Try to take on activities which play to your strengths. Ask for help with tasks that are difficult for you.
  9. Ask others how they’ve coped with similar problems
    You can learn a lot from people who have had similar experiences. Find out how others deal with problems. They may be able to save you time and pain.
  10. Be kind to yourself
    You have been through a number of very difficult situations. Give yourself credit for doing your best.

Remember, you must take care of yourself to help others who are important to you and to effectively deal with the losses and changes you are facing. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out where to start. If you aren’t sure where to begin, consider talking with and getting ideas from someone you know and trust. They may be able to help you get headed in the right direction. Going to a support group is often helpful because you get the chance to hear from others who have been through similar experiences and learn about what worked for them.

This column was written by Laura Taylor and Jeff Kreutzer from the VCU TBI Model System Family Support Research Program.

Posted on BrainLine June 19, 2009.

From the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care. Reprinted with permission.