July 6, 2018

A Nothing Day: Self-Care for Caregivers – Experts by Experience

By Harriet Hodgson

“Today I’m going to have a Nothing Day,” I blurted to my husband. “I’m going to sit on the couch, put my feet up, read if I want to, take a nap, or stare straight ahead.”

My wheelchair-bound husband turned to me and replied, “I understand.”

He did understand because he has participated and watched me care for three generations of family members–we’re a caregiving team. Glad as I am to be a family caregiver, it’s a tiring, stressful, and demanding role. In my 21 years as a family caregiver, experience has taught me the importance of self-care.

What is a Nothing Day?

It would be a day to consciously slow down and pamper myself. No grocery shopping. No running errands. No upsetting newscasts. I would put on the brakes and revel in the quiet. I would listen to my self-talk and take stock of things. A Nothing Day would include basic care to ensure the safety and well-being of my husband.

“You’ll get your meds and your meals,” I assured my husband, “but the meals will be simpler.” My husband is fascinated by the history of World War II and watches war programs constantly. I asked him to turn the volume down. He nodded in agreement and activated the television caption feature. Later, I realized the quiet was healing.

Planning an off-day

Caregiving experts and organizations stress the importance of self-care; without it, caregivers risk illness, aloneness, and depression. Certainly, I didn’t want this to happen to me. The idea of an off-day had been rattling around in my mind for weeks.

I read articles, including one by Barbara Markway, Ph.D., who writes for Psychology Today. She divides self-care into five categories: Mental, Spiritual, Emotional, Physical, and Social. I liked the first four categories but eliminated the social one because I yearned for peace and quiet. Although I need socializing, I just didn’t need it now. I started planning the day and what it might include.

Declaring a Nothing Day has distinct benefits. Planning the day gave me something to look forward to. Slowing down was a proactive step and would help me destress. If all went well, the day would energize me for caregiving days to come.

Telling your loved one

My husband is a retired physician and we’ve been married for 60 years. I knew he would understand the Nothing Day idea, but other care receivers may not. Bringing up the idea can make a loved one nervous. Still, a loved one needs to know your plans. The Family Caregiver website tells caregivers to practice self-care early and not wait until they’re overwhelmed, exhausted or facing major health problems—good advice for all caregivers.

How can you share your news? The answer to this question depends on your loved one’s health. Pick a good time, not when your loved one is tired, hungry or upset. If your loved one has memory disease, you might have to repeat yourself several times. You may wish to make a sign that says Nothing Day, with the day of the week, and date on it; circle the day on a calendar as well. Allow enough lead time to give your loved one opportunity to process the thought.

Most importantly, assure your loved one that her or his basic health needs will be met.

How I spend my Nothing Day

I try to have a Nothing Day once a month. I listen to my body which often lets me know when I need this day. I can barely walk when I get up in the morning because I have bursitis and arthritic hips. It takes an hour and over-the-counter medication to get my creaky body going, and if my pain worsens, I know it’s time to slow down and take care of myself. I’ve developed a repertoire of quiet activities:

  • Meditation
  • Listening to music
  • Logging into reliable caregiving websites
  • Writing caregiving affirmations
  • Reading my favorite magazines or the mystery novel I’ve wanted to read for weeks
  • Taking a long nap and not feeling guilty about it
  • Watching birds come to our backyard feeders
  • Baking cookies (I love baking)
  • Thinking about ideas for future books

Although my quiet days include some caregiving tasks, the tasks are simple and I focus on slowing down. Such days have become part of my normal routine. I’m blessed to have a husband who understands me and to be his primary caregiver. For us, every day is a miracle. As I approach my 22nd year as a family caregiver, I feel deserving of Nothing Days–and you are as well. Put this day on your calendar and start planning now!

Experts by Experience is a collaboration between Inspire and Mayo Clinic Connect, online support communities for patients and caregivers. By sharing their stories, patients and caregivers awaken, inform, and strengthen the capacity to partner in their care. The stories also help clinicians and non-medical professionals in health care implement patient-informed practices in their interactions and communications, by uncovering opportunities for quality improvement. The series showcases the value of shared experiences and features contributors from around the globe.

About the author: Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance writer for over 38 years. She is the author of 36 books and thousands of articles, and has also appeared on radio talk shows and dozens of television stations, including CNN. She has been a family caregiver for 21 years and her recent work focuses on this topic. Visit to learn more about this wife, grandmother, caregiver, and author.

Choose a message to share 
What do caregivers need more than anything else? A day off!
What is a nothing day, and why do caregivers need them so badly?
How should caregivers spend their nothing day? Any way they want!

Tags: caregivers, caregiving, Experts by Experience, Patient Involvement

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