Caring for someone who is sick and worrying about what the future holds is exhausting and can quickly lead to burnout. Many times, caregivers will just keep doing what needs to be done and suffer in silence. Caregiving is a hard job. And you may be there for them 24 hours a day for months or even years. In one study, more than 50% of caregivers spent more than 8 hours a day caring for patients who were getting chemotherapy. There is often a financial burden to caregiving, too, such as time away from work.
Your love for them will give you energy for a while. Just remember to refuel.
Here are some tips to make sure you don’t forget to take care of yourself.
- Get some form of exercise like walking or an aerobics class.
- You need a support system. Call friends or family when you need to talk or need help.
- Pursue a hobby or start a fun project.
- Try to stay connected with friends even if you do have to cut back on your personal life.
- Eat well-balanced meals. Caregiving can leave precious little time and many turn to fast food or junk food. Get the nutrition your body needs!
- Have a place where you can go to “escape” and just be by yourself.
- Set priorities each day and make sure the most important tasks get done.
- Try to cut out smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Get a good amount of sleep each night, and find time to rest throughout the day as well.
Say “Yes” to Help
It’s perfectly fine to have helpers. In fact, you may find that learning to let go and to accept help will lower your anxiety and raise your spirits. People often want to chip in, but aren’t sure what type of help you need. It’s helpful to keep a list of all caregiving tasks and list them from the smallest to the largest. That way, when friends or family offer to help, you can give them specific choices.
Do What You Can, Don’t Do What You Can’t
Each and every caregiver will find themselves caught up in the whirlwind of appointments, daily errands, and medicine doses. Nobody can do everything. Acknowledge your limits. You will more than likely feel overwhelmed. Decide what you can and cannot handle. Your loved one needs you. You can’t do this alone. Together, you can get through.
Take a Break
If you’re a full-time caregiver, you can’t always take a break. But learning techniques to get rid of stress throughout the day can be extremely helpful. Try to close your eyes for 5 or 10 minutes, listen to relaxing music, exercise, watch a movie, read a book, take a short walk, or call a friend for a quick laugh. It’s okay to laugh, even when your loved one is in treatment. In fact, it’s healthy. Laughter releases tension. It makes you feel better. Keeping your sense of humor in trying times is a good coping skill.
However you choose to get away during the day, you need at least 30 minutes a day to yourself.
In order to care for your loved one, you have to take care of yourself too. As the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.”
Emotional Support for Caregivers
Patients, families, and caregivers will face varying levels of sadness, stress, and fear when the diagnosis of cancer comes. These feelings are normal.
You may have these feelings, too. You may be afraid of losing your loved one. You may also feel angry because someone you love has cancer, frustrated that you “can’t do enough,” or stressed because you have more responsibility at home. Anyone affected by cancer may need help dealing with the emotions that result.
There’s no doubt that cancer changes people’s lives. The emotional stress it causes can be overwhelming, but no one has to manage it alone. It can helpful to connect with other caregivers and cancer survivors. There are emotional support programs available that can help you and your loved one.
Support groups meet in person, by phone, or online. They can help you gain new insights into what’s happening, offer ideas about how to cope, and make you see that you’re not alone.
In a support group, people may share their feelings, trade advice, and try to help others who are dealing with the same kinds of issues. Some people go just to listen.
If you can’t find a group in your area, try a support group on the internet. Some caregivers say websites with support groups have helped them through.
Here are some organizations that offer support groups or peer connections for caregivers:
You should also reach out to members of the healthcare team for local suggestions. Many hospitals and treatment centers host support groups for survivors and caregivers.
Depression and Cancer
Feeling sad, depressed, or anxious after a cancer diagnosis is normal. However, if these feelings start to interfere with your daily activities, you may need individual counseling from a medical professional.
Symptoms of clinical depression:
- Ongoing sadness or feelings of hopelessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities
- Major weight loss or weight gain
- Agitation or restlessness
- Fatigue or no energy
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions
- Feeling worthless, guilty, or helpless
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Don’t be afraid to seek help. Reach out to the healthcare team for suggestions, visit your own primary care doctor, or call your insurance company for recommendations.