Cancer Education

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Mar 2, 2020

4 Ways Caregivers Can Care for Themselves

By Megan Roessler M. Ed., @meganroessler

caregiver_word shutterstock_1110640928When 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 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:


…sigh…I so very much wish articles like this would add very important and necessary modifiers (such as might, could, maybe, should consider, might want to try). Not all caregivers 'can' do, as you say. There is NO 'secret to avoiding burnout'. Likewise saying 'don't let yourself get there' is a recipe for even more caregiver regret, feelings of inadequacy, and depressive thoughts. Some days caregivers do burnout! Caregivers do not need to be told they must have done something wrong since you say burnout is avoidable.

Authors do not know what the specifics of the home situation are, the limits and needs of the patient, the variety or severity of the disease, levels of isolation, and the uniqueness of the patient and caregiver. In my opinion they need to keep this in mind before they write. There is a significant difference between telling and suggesting.



Point well taken. I did not mean to make anyone feel worse by reading this. The saying of "walk a mile in my shoes" comes to mind. The spirit of the article is to say that caregivers have needs too and trying to find some ways of getting those needs met while they are giving so much of themselves to their loved one. Caregivers play an important and taxing role in a patient's life. I just want them to receive some care as well!

You bring a more compassionate and realistic viewpoint that I am sure other caregivers can relate to.


Liked by Lisa Lucier

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