Prioritizing one’s own health while caregiving can be especially challenging. According to the AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) Caregiving in the U.S. report (2020), 23% of caregivers report being unable to care for their health (AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving, 2020).

person writing in notebook

Goal setting is a tool that can be used to help caregivers prioritize self-care, create actionable steps, and feel more in control of their caregiving role. According to the Journal of Gerontological Nursing, caregivers who set self-care goals for themselves had higher levels of self-control and felt more in control of their caregiving roles than their counterparts who did not set goals (Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 2021). It is important for caregivers to understand that taking care of themselves is not selfish. Caregivers must take some time to prioritize their needs to better take care of themselves physically, emotionally, financially, and socially, while also preventing caregiver burnout.

How Caregivers Can Set and Prioritize Self-Care Goals

It can be difficult to get started with prioritizing self-care goals. Creating a short-term goal or an action plan that identifies the necessary parameters (when, where, how) of the goal can help to reduce the barrier of getting started (Bailey, 2017). The following are ways to create and work towards self-care goals:

Make it SMART

smart goals graphic

Making specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (SMART) goals will help to follow through on the creation and implementation of the action plan (Bailey, 2017). The following are examples of how to make goals SMART:

  • S (Specific) – Break the goal down—there may be a tendency to create unrealistic or far-reaching goals. Make sure to start small to think about tangible things that can be done to take care of oneself.
  • M (Measurable) – Ask if this goal can be measured and if so, how will it be measured?
  • A (Attainable) – Create a goal that is feasible and within reach. Unmet goals that are based on unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment. Make sure to set oneself up for success by making the goal attainable.
  • R (Relevant) – Oftentimes, self-care goals may be created out of obligation. Aim to reach for goals that are beneficial to one’s self-care.
  • T (Time-bound) – Assess the appropriate time frame for carrying out self-care goals. Start small, such as having a weekly goal, so that goals are not too overwhelming. Determine a specific timetable for the projected completion of the goal.

Sharing with Others

Have an accountability partner to share goals and progress with. This can be with a friend, family member, or another caregiver. Connecting with other caregivers creates opportunities to collaborate and strategize effective practices to set and complete goals.

table with two people drinking coffee

Prioritizing self-care should not be an overwhelming process. The practice of goal setting can help caregivers to find purpose, make prioritizing self-care more approachable, feel more in control of their caregiving role, and continue to provide quality care.


AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving. (2020). Caregiving in the U.S. 2020. AARP.

Bailey, R. R. (2017). Goal setting and Action Planning for Health Behavior Change. Retrieved from

Journal of Gerontological Nursing. Aminzadeh, F., Byszewski, A., Dalziel, W. B., Wilson, M., Deane, N., & Papahariss-Wright, S. (2021). Effectiveness of outpatient geriatric assessment programs: Exploring caregiver needs, goals, and outcomes. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 31(12), 19–25. doi:10.3928/0098-9134-20051201-06