How Do I Make the Most of Respite?

When presented with the opportunity to take a break, many caregivers say they don’t know what to do with their little pocket of time.  Many caregivers have been caring for their loved one for so long that they have forgotten what they enjoy doing.  Once upon a time, didn’t you love to play tennis?  Weren’t you a bowler, reader, writer, skier, baker, seamstress?  Didn’t you play cards with your friends on Fridays, or meet for coffee on Tuesdays?

Sometimes caregivers want to get out of the house, but other times they’d just like to have some quiet time at home alone.  Simple things like relaxing in a hot bath, reading a book, or gardening have become the luxuries of long ago.

Don’t worry if you’re not sure what you will do with a few hours to yourself.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Read a book
  • Have coffee with a friend
  • Call your sister
  • Go to a movie
  • Watch a movie on the couch
  • Play a game of cards with a friend
  • Go to a museum
  • Go to church
  • Meditate
  • Take a walk
  • Go to the gym
  • Take a class
  • Garden
  • Take up yoga
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Walk the dog
  • Go shopping
  • Take a nap
  • Take yourself on a date
  • Go to the doctor
  • Get a massage
  • Go to the grocery store
  • Get yourself an ice cream cone


Try to avoid taking respite in chunks of less than 4 hours.  Although that may not always be possible, if you feel like you have to rush home from the grocery store because you could only get away for an hour, you’re not really get the break you need – and deserve.

Plan ahead.  Research shows that those who plan ahead report much more satisfaction with their respite time than those who do not.  Choosing not to plan ahead can leave you feeling like you’ve wasted too much time watching TV or getting sidetracked by household chores.  

Make sure you schedule time to do something you actually enjoy.  Running errands without your loved one might feel like a bit of a break, but you’re probably not going to feel rested when you’re through.  So be sure to build in some time to do something that you like, even if it seems frivolous.

Start early.  Many people wait to seek out respite until they are at their wit’s end.  But lining up a respite provider and taking a weekly break, even though you feel like you’ve got everything under control can prevent serious caregiver fatigue.  And like many people, you may not even realize how stressed out you are until it’s too late.  

Feeling guilty for leaving your loved one? Research shows that when you take good care of yourself, you take better care of those you are providing care for.   Having regular breaks allows you to rest, recharge, and return to your caregiving responsibilities with renewed vigor.

But nobody can take care of him like I can. You’re right.  Nobody is going to do it exactly like you do.  You know you’re loved one better than anyone, and you’ve likely been doing this a long time.  But it’s okay if it’s different.  You may even find that your loved one enjoys spending time with a new person. Do your homework and find the best respite provider you can.  Ask questions until you feel confident that you’ve found the right person, and then take the leap of faith and take a break.  It’s good for you and good for your loved one.

Want to learn more?  California State University San Bernardino and the University of Utah have collaborated to create “Time for Living and Caring:  Making Respite Services Work for You.” Professors of Gerontology, Sociology, Health Science, and Social Work offer a scholarly approach to the importance of respite for caregivers.