The Lesson of the Glass of Water and Self-Care


April 5, 2024

Lesson of glass of water

After 16 weeks of my husband’s falls, surgeries, hospital and rehabilitation stays, followed by the adjustment to returning home, my energy and patience reserves were drained. The other morning, as I was doing the minimum to get dressed and prepare for the day, I remembered the story of the glass of water representing stress

Several versions of the story can be found online, and no one knows exactly who the source is, but the story goes that a lecturer used the image of holding a glass of water and stress.

The glass of water represents stress, and the weight of the glass changes depending on how long the person holds it. The lecturer explained the absolute weight doesn’t matter, because the longer you hold it, the heavier it becomes. He went on to say, “If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on”. The lecturer suggested you should put the glass down for a while and rest before holding it again.  

What a perfect image to describe being a family caregiver!

In the beginning of this caregiver journey last year I had energy for helping my husband, problem solving, scheduling and managing medical appointments, advocating for care, making never ending phone medical and insurance calls while navigating complex phone systems, the challenge of keeping family and friends informed about what was happening with his health, and the 100s of small and large decisions I had to make.

I know about self-care and tried, but it was often not high on the priority list or even make the list. I made sleep a priority but never felt rested. As someone with diabetes, I knew my health was essential to supporting him, yet I did not eat what or when I needed to. As a result, added weight and increased blood sugar levels made me feel worse. Exercise, other than walking around in hospitals, parking lots, and doctor appointments, took the place of yoga, recumbent bike, and my regular exercise routine. I had offers from many people to help, but like most caregivers, many of the responsibilities could only be mine to take care of. Meals magically appeared in my refrigerator, but I avoided scheduling lunches with friends. Our schedule was changing so quickly between the hospital, rehabilitation facilities, and doctor appointments I could not keep personal ones. I even put off my own health appointments. Often I just wanted to go home and do nothing. Yet, I still had a house and two dogs to take care of.   

The stressors stacked up and the glass of water got heavier and my arm was tired! 

Eventually, I embraced my family of friends and my dogs as my primary sources of self-care. I made some changes. I committed to my health by eating better and lowering my weight, which improved my diabetes. I used a massage gift card our son and daughter-in-law gave me. I started using the free social media site, CaringBridge, my daughter-in-law suggested to keep family and friends informed. I relied more on a trusted colleague to help with my professional tasks. I began meeting friends for meals or walks. And lastly, I am exercising more although not enough. 

I realize how lucky I am to have a husband who appreciates everything I do for him, supportive family and friends, access to state-of-the-art medical care that is close to our home, transportation to get there, and outstanding insurance. I say every day how grateful I am!

I am putting the glass down more often, but it is mine to carry. I will continue to practice some form of self-care when it gets too heavy.

Source: Zanda Hilger, M. Ed., LPC, Editor,

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