Caregivers play a vital role in the lives of cancer patients, and the reliable emotional and physical support
they provide is crucial to the well-being of the patient. However, when you are the person who feels responsible for the care of a loved one with cancer, it may be all too easy to get absorbed by this new role, and allow some of your own needs to go unaddressed. Taking care of another person may seem like something that should come easily, but when you focus all of your energy on someone else, you may forget to attend to the unique needs of your own mind and spirit. Remember to take time for self-care, as well as the care of the patient, with these nine tips:
Accept all emotions related to the cancer diagnosis, both positive and negative.
As a caregiver, you are going to feel a wide array of emotions. Sometimes, you may feel resentful or frustrated by your new role, which can be followed by feelings of guilt or selfishness. Recognize that all of these feelings are normal, and it is OK to both feel and express them. Work on cultivating positive emotions, which will improve both your mood and the mood of your loved one, by setting attainable short-term goals, accepting some of the limitations of your ability to provide care and by continuing to make time for the activities you love to do.
Communicate your feelings and emotions with someone you trust. Most of us have someone in our support system in whom we can confide, and who will be supportive of our needs on even our worst days. Sometimes, this person may even be the cancer patient. Find someone safe to confide in, even on days where you may feel negative emotions or fears. If these feelings become overwhelming, find a therapist or social worker who can provide objective feedback and listen without judgment to your emotions.
Maintain your own health by committing to a healthy lifestyle. Leave enough time each evening for rest, and aim for 8 hours per day to dedicate to sleep. Pay attention to your diet, and accept help with cooking from your own support network, if it is offered. Maintain light levels of exercise, both as a means to stay active, as well as reduce stress and clear your mind.
Make time to enjoy your own life. While your day-to-day may feel consumed with the care of someone else, it’s critical to find time for the parts of your life that you enjoy. Watching a movie, reading a book, listening to music, cooking or spending time with friends are all among the small ways that we care for ourselves and enjoy our lives, and these activities shouldn’t be pushed aside during your role as caregiver.
Don’t tackle your role as caregiver alone.
It’s simply not realistic to expect that you will be able to caregiver alone for any length of time. It’s important to involve your friends and family in your new role, and in the things you must do for your loved one. Whether you are a partner, sibling, son or daughter of the person with cancer, it is not your responsibility to provide the total care your loved one needs
at the expense of your own health or mental well-being.
Accept help when you need it, and spend time with family and friends. If your network of friends and loved ones is offering help, including help with housekeeping, cooking, running errands or giving rides, consider accepting it. Freeing yourself from the burden of some of these aspects of your life frees up your time and emotional energy for caring for your loved one. Make sure to leave time for socializing with others, even if you stay in touch primarily through phone calls or email. The company of others can help buoy your spirits and help you to feel positive.
Know when to seek professional help.
It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities as a caregiver, but if these feelings become constant or debilitating, it may be time to seek help
from a mental health professional. It’s time to seek outside help if you:
- Feel intense depression, or physical sickness or hopelessness
- Feel like hurting yourself, or find yourself lashing out at your loved ones
- Find yourself getting sick more frequently than usual
- Become dependent on alcohol or recreational drugs as a coping mechanism
- Are no longer able to take care of yourself