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Aug 2019

You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup

Deployment can be a stressful and potentially dangerous experience for service members. Although most service members return with minimal impairments to daily functioning, others return with physical injuries and/or psychological problems such that they require assistance from a caregiver for activities of daily living (e.g., traveling to appointments, taking medication, practicing good personal hygiene). Caregivers are often unpaid individuals, usually family members or close friends. Because of the attention that these service members may require, caregiving can be challenging. It is common for caregivers to feel overwhelmed or even helpless due to the responsibilities that quickly accumulate. It is also common for caregivers to convince themselves that they must sacrifice themselves to take care of others. However, that type of mindset is associated with physical and emotional exhaustion among caregivers, as well as burnout. Caregivers need to take care of themselves—as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Here are some practical ways for caregivers to engage in self-care:

1. Ask for and accept help

Asking for help is not easy, and sometimes caregivers have a hard time articulating the help they need. Try breaking down responsibilities into smaller tasks that others could easily complete (e.g., pick up medications, prepare a meal). Delegation of these small tasks may not seem like a lot, but it can provide the time necessary to allow for proper self-care and other responsibilities.

2. Emphasize personal health

Caregivers need to be intentional about focusing on their own physical, mental, and emotional health. This emphasis can be accomplished in a variety of ways. These lists provide a few suggestions to consider:

  • Physical:
    • Get an annual physical with a Primary Care Physician.
    • Get some exercise. Try going on regular walks or short jogs.
    • Make minor dietary changes. Swap some unhealthy food options for healthier ones.
    • Drink 64 ounces of water every day.
  • Mental:
    • Practice mindfulness to process the day (learn more about mindfulness here).
    • Do a mental check-up. Talk to a therapist.
    • Consider pursuing spiritual growth.
  • Emotional:
    • Try devoting 15 minutes for emotional expression.
    • Journal about any thoughts and emotions, particularly those related to caregiving, to help process them.
    • Confide in a close family member or friend for support.
3. Use available resources

Resources can be found in many places, ranging from webpages to community organizations. Here are a few to check out:

  • The Department of Veteran Affairs offers benefits for some caregivers of veterans. Visit here to see if you qualify for these programs.
  • The VA also offers online resources, including a caregiver support line, peer mentor connections, and tips by diagnosis: Link to Source
  • Veterans Families United is an organization dedicated to connecting caregivers to topic-specific resources: Link to Source

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