Sweet Escape: Ideas for Caregivers

Written By Aileen Trang

Most caregivers are notorious for not giving themselves personal time when they need it, and I'm no exception. In past blog posts I've written about coping, adjusting, or adapting as a caregiver. But I also know that giving yourself a break can help relieve stress and boost your mental wellness. Sometimes you just need to get away and recharge your batteries. If you can just escape for a little bit, you'll come back and be better able to take care of your responsibilities as a caregiver.

Regardless of how intensive your caregiving role is at the moment, there are ways to give yourself a break. Here are some things that worked for me.

Create an "I'll be back soon" symbol.

Image of a small flower garden
The Max Tannenbaum Garden on the 16th Floor Terrace of Princess Margaret

When my mom was staying in the hospital, I was her support and interpreter so I had to stay close. I spent many restless nights curled up on an uncomfortable chair at her bedside so that I'd be there when she needed me. Taking care of my own basic needs was a challenge because I was worried my mom would wake up and find me gone. We came up with a system for when I needed to step out for a few minutes. I would leave a stuffed toy chicken on my chair, a sign to her that I'd be back soon. It helped her feel less anxious and helped me feel less worried about leaving for a few minutes.

Visit the hospital terrace or garden.

Taking a short break from my mom's beside was incredibly rejuvenating, but I didn't have enough time to leave the hospital. I found myself visiting the hospital's terrace whenever I needed to stretch my legs or get some fresh air. If I knew she'd be sleeping for a while, I'd take a cup of coffee or a magazine on a longer break. Most hospitals will have one for patients, visitors and staff to use.

Enjoy the backyard.

After my mom was discharged from the hospital, I stayed at home to care and watch her as the doctor ordered. I hung bird feeders to bring some nature into our backyard. Watching the birds relaxes me and always makes me feel happier. It's a place where I can recharge myself and still stay close to my mom.

Create an "escape" space.

I also created my own "escape" space where I worked on my own things. This helped me separate caregiving tasks from my own activities. Physically switching when I mentally switched tasks gave my mind a break.

Fill your escape space with things and experiences that energize you. My escape space was a room with a large window to give me lots of sunlight. It also had speakers to play music. I had lots of plants sitting on the desk and all my stationary supplies were turquoise because that was a relaxing colour to me.

Go for a nature walk.

Living in Toronto, this was only possible when my caregiving responsibilities were lighter or when a friend was able to help me out for the day. It's worth making the effort if you can; studies show that natural settings are best for relieving stress and enhancing mood.

A little sweet spot that I've grown fond of is DeCew Falls in St. Catherines, Ontario. There is nothing like getting away from the buzzing city and congested streets, and going for a hike in a conservation park surrounded by trees and the smell of wet moss. I like climbing down the gorge, and wading in the cool stream toward this 70-foot waterfall. Here, all my worries seem like thousands of miles away. When I'm feeling less adventurous, I'll take a friend on a picnic in a conservation park followed by a relaxing walk along the flat paths.


Your idea of a sweet escape is probably different from mine, but these tips will still apply. Doing an activity you like or something you've never tried before will give your mind a break. It may seem like you're giving yourself more to do on top of your regular caregiving routine, but the change will let you mentally recharge.

And any escape, no matter how short, still counts. Longer getaways have a longer lasting, relaxing effect, but that may not be possible as a caregiver. If 5-minute breaks are all you can take, try scheduling more of them into your day.