4 Ways Caregivers Can Care for Themselves
When a loved one has a cancer diagnosis, you may find yourself being thrust into the caregiver role. This may be different than other times you have been a caregiver. If you become a parent, are close to someone having a surgery, an aging parent...you may have a little lead time and anticipation of assuming more responsibility. Cancer can bring this role on very suddenly leaving little time to anticipate new roles.
What's the secret to avoiding burnout?
Remembering that taking care of yourself is key to caring for your loved one.
Taking care of yourself
It's easy to become frustrated, run-down and burned out as a caregiver. Don't let yourself get there. Instead, find time to:
- Train for caregiving. To give the best care, you need to be in good shape. Think of it like training for a marathon. You need to eat well, get enough sleep, exercise and do things you enjoy.
- Take breaks. Research shows that caregivers who take regular breaks from their responsibilities cope better with stress and keep their loved ones at home longer. They also reduce their risk of depression and cardiovascular disease.Respite care can come in the form of a friend coming over to play cards with your loved one once a week. Or it may mean hiring a professional to provide assistance with bathing, grooming, medications or other needs.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a meditative-type tool you can use to relieve stress. It trains your brain to be present in the moment. Studies show that practicing mindfulness can help reduce caregiver stress and depression.
- Create your own space. Everyone needs personal space. Find a room or a corner that you can make your own, a place of refuge where you can go when you feel overwhelmed.This could be a comfortable chair facing a window, a cozy bedroom or even the backyard. A few minutes of recharging your emotional batteries can make a big difference in how you feel when you return to your responsibilities.
When to get help
Caregivers face higher risks of depression, fatigue and physical illness. Reach out to your doctor, a therapist or a counselor for help when you need it. Getting help is not only acceptable, it's the best choice for you and your loved one.
Watch for these warning signs:
- Feeling constantly overwhelmed or as if you're running on empty
- Feeling trapped or that you've lost all connection with friends and the outside world
- Easily losing patience or getting angry
- Feelings of despair, anguish or extreme sadness
- Feeling that life doesn't matter
- Frequent crying
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Experiencing appetite changes or severe tiredness
- Inability to sleep
- Excessive use of alcohol or using drugs to cope
Here to help
There are many good resources to help you along the path of caregiving. American Cancer Society has some helpful resources. Here is a video series: Caregiver videos and more Caregiver resources.
Connect with other caregivers who "get it" and talk about the realities of caregiving in the caregiving groups on Mayo Clinic Connect: