Caring for the Caregiver

By Julie Alvira, MD MBA

Caregiving is a labor of love but can pose some extreme challenges, both physically and emotionally. It does not matter if you’re an individual working as a professional caregiver for an agency or by yourself. Caregiving can create family pressures, impact financial well being, and contribute to social isolation.

Stress can take a toll and result in burnout. Professional burnout, which often is the result of stress manifested in the form of emotional and physical exhaustion, has become a national health crisis among healthcare professionals. It can result in poor sleep, mounting pressure, skipping exercise, bowing out of social events, poor eating, feeling not good enough, depression, an inability to accomplish obligations out of the healthcare setting, not having quality time with loved ones, and a decrease in the sense of personal accomplishments.

A physician and caregiver for his wife with breast cancer (Finkelstein, 2013) points out, “I compartmentalized my fears about what might happen, and I pushed forward––exactly as I would do with my patients at work, as I was trained to do. But while this strategy works effectively with the strangers that I care for in the operating room, it proved to be less successful at home. I started to have trouble sleeping, and I noticed many odd new physical symptoms––muscle fatigue and weakness, numbness and tingling in my fingers and arms, and palpitations.”

This doctor was having symptoms of anxiety. With the help of a therapist, he learned how to recognized these symptoms and take control. Also, he learned to listen with more patience and practice compassion with his own patients.

As one can see, a caregiver gives their love and time with compassion and empathy but needs to learn how to connect to self. The idea of “feeling your feelings” by becoming aware of them is important. Take control, have emotional support, and know when to ask for help. One great thing that I have learned as a caregiver to my mom, who’s a widow and recently had a hip replacement, is to practice self-care.

Remember, you might not be able to do anything about the person’s disability, but you can do something about the way your life is impacted. Whether you are in the healthcare industry or are a professional caregiver or caring for a loved one, if you let stress and emotions lead to exhaustion, you might become vulnerable to many problems.


Self compassion and self care are priorities. Yes, you feel compassion for your loved one, client or patient, but in order to help that person you have to help yourself first. This is not selfish or self-centered, it’s part of caring for your well being and having a balanced lifestyle to prevent the manifestations of stress.

According to Chopra Wellness Center, there are six areas of self-care that we should work on including:

  • Physical: adequate sleep, nutrition, and physical movement to raise your energy levels.
  • Emotional: “feel your feelings” and talk about them. Get in touch with your thoughts.
  • Mental: instead of getting caught in stagnation, try a new challenge or project.
  • Spiritual: connect with the self by practicing yoga, tai chi, meditation, relaxation techniques or trying solitude. Remember that solitude is not isolation. It is a time to connect with yourself and recharge. Sometimes it is called “me time.” Some people walk in nature while others read a book. Your type of solitude time is special and it is your own. If the feeling of loneliness kicks in, be aware of where it’s coming from and come back to the present moment. Mindfulness helps when our fears and emotional wounds from the past show up and try to take over.
  • Social: cultivate connection with people.
  • Practical: pay attention to other areas of your life that are part of your chores and routines such as financial, projects, etc.

It’s important to know that you are not alone. It’s not easy, but in order to become a compassionate caregiver, love with a whole heart.

Julie Alvira, MD, MBA. Dr. Julie is a Certified Life Coach for men and women but has a passion for Women Recovering from Addictions. Creator of Your Recovery Gal program for women, she is a Nationally Certified Addictions Professional. Bilingual virtual or in-office sessions.