15 Minutes Alone as a Caregiver: Protecting Your Own Time

Tips for Self-Care That Require a Quarter-Hour…or Less!

A caregiver’s world revolves around unending demands. These demands may drain you emotionally, mentally and physically. But the biggest drag is on your time. How big? For many caregivers, just enjoying 15 minutes alone is an unimaginable luxury.

After all, you are your loved one’s eyes and ears. They depend on you to be their “voice” and interpret the world for them. Many people living with dementia have lost their sense of time, so if you are away for 15 minutes, they feel abandoned for an entire day. This dependency means they may want you around – and in sight – 24/7.


15 Minutes to Refresh

Let’s say you look after a parent with dementia. They may be anxious and follow you from sunrise until long after dark. You do your best to manage your emotions and remain patient. Still, you have needs of your own. How, where and when do you create space to breathe?

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

Caregiver burnout is real and can lead to serious problems for your emotional and physical health. Rather than continuing to ignore the growing stress, acknowledge it. Then pledge to do something about it. If you need an excuse to take care of yourself, remember that the person you are looking after will suffer if you don’t.

Developing a Self-Care Strategy

Your dream of 15 minutes alone can become reality. Ask yourself: Do you need to be physically separate from your loved one to practice self-care? Is this even possible? If not, can you take care of yourself while you’re in the room with them? Are there options to do it together? Your answers will help you choose the right approach.


15 Minutes for Yourself…While You Care for Another

Can you really take 15 minutes for yourself while in the same room with your mother or father? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

If you are caring for a parent or spouse, you may get so task-focused that you forget about your own well-being. Try these approaches when you are together:

  • Develop a breathing practice. After all, you need to breathe anyway! There are many possibilities for breath work. You can do these with anyone present, and breathing techniques improve heart and brain health.
  • Try mindfulness. The only requirement for this simple form of meditation is the willingness to sit still and watch your thoughts. Developing a healthy detachment from the challenges of the moment could be just the care you need.
  • Listen to music. Share the joy of music together, or don a pair of headphones and listen while you watch mom or dad.
  • Read. Depending on the situation, you could dip into a novel. Keep reading material or your favorite device handy.
  • Exercise. If your parent is able, you can do some simple exercises together. Or, bring an exercise mat into the room and perform floor exercises right there.
  • More togetherness ideas. Other ideas for creating some chill time during care time include jigsaw puzzles, watching TV, or even having “tea time” — a daily ritual can you share with your parent.

          Read Articles About Caregiver Burnout

Out of Sight but Still On-Site

When you are taking care of someone else, here are five ways to steal 15 minutes alone in a spare room:

  • Take a power nap. A short nap will refresh you, and won’t interfere with your evening sleep.  Even if you can’t (or don’t want to) fall asleep, you can still rest and collect your thoughts.
  • Do floor exercises.  Stretching, yoga and aerobic exercise can all be performed in a confined space.
  • Talk to a friend.  Can you spend your 15 minutes on the phone with a friend? If you’re able to set time to do this in advance, great! If that’s not practical, pick up your cell and phone someone to share how your day is going.
  • Meditate or pray. Many caregivers find that a short break to reconnect with their spiritual life can, well, lift their spirits.
  • Take a video vacation. Go online and find a channel that features relaxing scenes and music. Here’s one you might try, The Five Minute Vacation:

An Outside Chance at 15 Minutes Alone

Do you have the option to go to a park, garden or natural area?

  • Walk. Take a few minutes for a brisk stroll. If it’s on a city street that’s totally fine. But if you have access to a park or a beach, all the better. If the weather and environment is right, you can even try a technique called earthing, which means walking barefoot. Some studies show that walking sans shoes reconnects us to mother earth and satisfies our soul…and soles.
  • Just sit. Take a seat someplace and drink it all in. That might mean a park bench or a patch of grass or a local coffee shop.

For more about self-care for people who give their all to their loved ones, take a long slow deep breath — then review this post on the importance of not isolating yourself as a caregiver.


  1. Napping, from The National Sleep Foundation
  2. 10 ways for caregivers to nurture themselves

Why Perfectionism Causes Caregiver Burnout

If you’re a caregiver and a perfectionist, you may be facing an uphill battle. Caregiving is a demanding job and it’s critical to accept that not everything will be perfect. As a caregiver, there are many things you cannot control and at the end of the day the most important thing to do is to let go of chasing perfection and simply aim to do your best. This piece will review the negative effects perfectionism has on caregiving.

The Right Mindset to Prevent Caregiver Burnout

Throughout our entire lives, people, maybe even the person you’re caring for, have told us that “nobody’s perfect.” That phrase applies to caregiving more than pretty much any other situation you’ll face throughout the course of your life. This is due to the nature of many of the illnesses you’re dealing with on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

It’s important to accept that there are many facets associated with caregiving that you can’t control and many that you cannot change. Learn from your mistakes, but also forgive yourself. If you ever practiced poor judgement, whether it was before your loved one got sick or while providing care, you need to let it go. Caregivers are under far more stress than the average person, and if you don’t acknowledge that, you’re far more likely to succumb to the causes of caregiver burnout.

Also, caregiver perfectionists tend to think nothing they do is good enough unless it’s perfect. If you’re that type of person, you need to lower your self-standards from “perfect” to “good enough,” because being good at caregiving is all anyone could possibly ask for. Caregivers who set too high of standards for themselves can suffer from low self-esteem, so when you do a good job, take time to acknowledge the difference you’re making and figuratively pat yourself on the back. In caregiving, victories can be few and far between, a fact that has nothing to do with the quality of the care. Even writing down your accomplishments as a caregiver is a healthy tactic. Don’t be afraid to accept a compliment every once in awhile!

Signs Your Perfectionism may be Leading to Caregiver Burnout

Perfectionists are more likely to be stressed, depressed, and are less probable to take breaks or pay attention to their physical health. Those are symptoms that are already associated with caregiver burnout, which is why perfectionism puts caregivers at risk.

Feeling constant fear of failure, constantly tinkering even after a task has been completed and comparing yourself to other caregivers are more signs of unhealthy behaviors exhibited by perfectionists.

Procrastination is another indicator that your attempt at being completely flawless is leading to caregiver burnout. Planning is extremely important when caregiving, but perfectionists tend to over prepare. This idealism can cause unnecessary delays in providing care or even preventing them from ever completing the task at hand.

Negative Effects of Perfectionism on Caregiving

Perfectionists inherently have a higher risk of depression and suicide so considering the additional stress of caregiving, caregivers who are perfectionists need to be extremely cognizant of the mental and physical effects of family caregiving.Those who set impossible standards for themselves are also found to have trouble receiving feedback, which is particularly worrisome in caregiving situations. It’s rare that the caregiver is a total expert on how to care for yourself while caring for an aging parent, so it’s extremely important that they take in advice from doctors or other healthcare professionals when it comes to providing care.

Also, in order to prevent caregiver burnout, caregivers must see a situation for what it is. A perfectionist tends to mentally bend a problem or scenario into how it ought to be, where a caregiver who sees a situation in realistic way is more likely to appropriate react in the moment. Perfectionists are also more likely to dwell on mistakes and be overly hard on themselves for being imperfect, rather than focusing on learning from their errors in order to avoid the same oversights in the future.

Doing Your Best is Enough

Caregiving is a job with many variables, unforeseen circumstances and often unavoidable outcomes. All a caregiver can do is give their best and that’s more than anyone could ask for. If you ever find yourself doubting the quality of you’re providing, just remember: you do enough, you care enough, you are enough.


How to Reduce Compassion Fatigue and Caregiver Burnout

Physical, emotional and mental exhaustion can signal dangerous levels of stress for caregivers

Compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout share many of the same symptoms and causes. Both can be caused by sustained exposure to suffering, the stress of caregiving and watching a loved one decline steadily. Those who care for loved ones with dementia can’t slow the progression of the disease and that causes extreme levels of stress. The inability to detach oneself from the situation can lead to levels of stress that result in both compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout. To lessen levels of stress here is more information about what steps you should be taking to improve your overall mental and physical health. Beneath the last step, there is also information on how to differentiate compassion fatigue from caregiver burnout and how they relate with one another.

The difference between compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout.

Compassion fatigue occurs when the caregiver cannot remove themselves from the condition of their loved one long enough to recover from the stress they develop attending to their needs. The caregiver becomes overwhelmed and begins to feel guilt, trauma, and depression. This, in turn, leads to caregiver burnout which includes physical symptoms like weight loss and sleep disturbances.

Five Ways You Can Reduce Compassion Fatigue and Caregiver Burnout:

All of these symptoms can adversely impact the caregiver’s ability to provide care and as a result, place the person in their care at risk. Reducing the causes of compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout is the only way to remain healthy while caring for a loved one. Being mindful of the need to care for oneself is an important first step. Here are some ways in which you can maintain good health while serving as a caregiver.

Eat good food.

  • Whole grains are high in fiber.
    • Brown rice is high in manganese which helps your body to produce energy.
    • Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamin A and vitamin C.
  • Fresh fruit will give you energy and help you feel full.
  • Bananas, apples, and oranges are packed with important vitamins and minerals.
  • Eat fresh vegetables, like spinach which is a superfood.
  • Beans are a protein and a complex carb, both of which provide energy to your body.
  • Enjoy nuts like almonds which are one of the best nuts you can eat.
  • Yogurt is full of calcium and magnesium which supports energy production.

Get a full night’s sleep. Don’t subtract from sleep time to get things done; being sleep deprived will lead to much lower productivity overall. Nap when your loved one naps – the housework and laundry will wait. Your sleep time is precious and should be protected. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Our bodies respond best to routines and a predictable sleep schedule is one of the most beneficial habits that you can adopt. For a good sleep, don’t drink caffeine in the evening hours and turn off all electronic devices an hour before going to bed. That will give your brain a chance to rest before you ask it to fall asleep.

Don’t go at it alone. As a caregiver, you cannot provide care and juggle all of life’s responsibilities without support. Make sure that you maintain friendships and talk to them regularly. If you can’t get out for coffee, have regular phone calls. Talk to other caregivers about the weight of your responsibilities. Caregiving commonly results in loneliness and isolation. Talking to people and maintaining a network of support can protect you against these negative results.

Take a break. Whether it is an hour, a day or a week, take time off from caregiving. It isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity if you are to protect against compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout. Ask friends and family members to step in and care for your loved one so you can have some time off. Check local assisted living facilities, long-term care
facilities, adult day care or home care programs for respite. It can be easy to ignore your need to take time off, but it is essential as recharging can help you become the best caregiver you can be.

Be realistic. The demands of family, work and caregiving may not leave you a lot of time to go shopping or engage in other activities you enjoy. However, you can squeeze in time for yourself. Leave a bit early and stop at your favorite coffee shop. Stop at your favorite bookstore on the way home. Treat yourself to your favorite take-out instead of making dinner. If your loved one is mobile, both of you can enjoy the treat of a manicure or pedicure.

Being a caregiver is difficult and finding time for yourself will not be easy. But it is essential to preventing effects of compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout.