You Can’t Fill From An Empty Cup

Top 10 tips to destress

Top 10 Tips for Destressing and Self-Care

Providing care for someone can take a tremendous emotional toll. Trying to juggle all your many responsibilities can be stressful and overwhelming at times. On any given day, you may feel angry, sad, depressed and exhausted.

What many caregivers don’t realize is that in order to provide the best care for your family member or friend, you need to take care of yourself too. You can’t fill from an empty cup.

Cindy Hartman, from Family Peer Mentors at the York Services Network, uses the oxygen mask analogy. “The flight attendant always tells you to put the oxygen mask over your own mouth and nose first before helping others,” she says. The same is true for caregiving. The following tips were adapted, in part, from a webinar Cindy and her co-worker, Sherry Summers gave in December, 2020. Both are also caregivers to their adult children who live with developmental disabilities.


  1. Make a plan

    • Schedules and routines are your friend. Put everything in your calendar, from medical appointments, to activities, to family time and ‘you’ time. Even if it’s only 30 minutes – set aside time in your calendar to recharge.

    • Write out your to-do list at the end of each day. That way you won’t worry about it all night and lose sleep.

  1. Take time for yourself

    • Physical activities such as walking, yoga, and dance will not only benefit your physical health but also your mental wellbeing. When you’re physically active, your body releases feel-good endorphins, which means exercise can act as a stress reliever. You can find all sorts of exercise videos online that you can do on your own schedule.

    • Take time to relax: take a bath, read a book, listen to music, meditate – whatever you enjoy.

    • Practise mindfulness, which is about focusing on the present instead of the past or future. One way to do this is breath awareness – deep breathing from your belly promotes relaxation. Here’s a breathing exercise you can do anywhere: inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds.

  1. Accept your negative emotions

    • As a caregiver you may experience a range of emotions: anger, guilt, sadness, grief, fear and helplessness. These feelings may be confusing. But they are normal.

    • Recognize and accept that it’s ok to feel bad sometimes. It’s better to acknowledge and accept your emotions than suppress them.

    • Allow yourself a good cry – crying is cathartic and can release pent up stress.

    • To move forward, try to identify why you feel that way – it can help you let go. Say how you feel out loud or write it down. Try imagining a balloon filled with negative thoughts, then cut the strings and watch it float away.

  1. Practice gratitude

    • At the start or end of each day, identify 3 things or people you are grateful for.

    • Keep a gratitude journal and refer to it when you’re feeling down.

    • Feelings of gratitude can improve mental strength, sleep, empathy, self-esteem, and social connections.

  1. Find reasons to laugh

    • Humor is the best medicine: laughing is a stress reducer and can help you cope with challenging situations. Read a funny book, sing a silly song, play a game, watch a comedy.

    • Smile: when you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides to help fight off stress.

  1. Let others help

    • Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or failure – everyone could use a little help now and then. Be specific about what you need – for example, help running errands, such as picking up groceries.

    • Look into respite care options, including adult day programs, professional homecare services, volunteer caregivers and friendly visiting programs. The Ontario Caregiver Helpline may be able to direct you to resources.

  1. Talk it out

    • Lean on a self-care buddy – someone you can be open and vulnerable with. Call them, or use Facetime or Zoom if you can’t meet in person.

    • Look into peer mentor and support groups. Talking to other caregivers who understand what you’re going through can help ease feelings of stress and isolation.

    • Register for a peer mentor now and connect without leaving home.

  1. Have perspective

    • Remember, you don’t have to be perfect all the time; no one is.

    • Accept that some things are out of your control – will worrying solve it?

    • When times seem toughest, remember: this too shall pass.

  1. Practice self-compassion

    • Be kind to yourself – nurture yourself with all the love and compassion you show others.

    • Give yourself a break – instead of thinking things like, “I should be doing more”, give yourself credit for everything you are doing. Try to think of one or two things each day that you accomplished or that made you feel good.

    • Mistakes are part of life – forgive yourself.

  1. Be realistic

    • Be realistic about how much you can do.

    • Try not to overschedule your activities or those of the person you care for – are there things you can scratch off your list or delegate to someone else?

    • Start small: a long list of things to do, even Top 10 Tips, can seem overwhelming and you might not know where to start. Pick one small thing you can do quickly – it’ll feel good to check something off your list and help you focus on the rest.

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