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How Can Caregivers Care for Themselves?

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Updated May 03, 2011

If you are the caregiver for someone with leukemia or lymphoma, that is, the person providing emotional and physical support, you have big responsibilities. These responsibilities can be overwhelming, draining, exhausting as well as being incredibly fulfilling. You may find that it is difficult to meet all needs of your loved one while also balancing your own life responsibilities. In order to provide the best care, caregivers need to take care of themselves as well.

Caring for Yourself

When you become a caregiver for someone with cancer, you may take on tasks and roles that are unfamiliar to you. Maintaining a home, looking after bills, children, meals as well as the day–to-day care of a cancer patient can be a full-time job. Here are a few things you can do to take the pressure off you:

Recruit help. People want to help out, so let them! If someone offers their assistance- take it. If they don’t offer help, ask friends, colleagues, clergy, and other family members to chip in with simple tasks. Not sure what to ask for? Walking the dog, driving to appointments, making a meal, shoveling the walk, or picking up a few groceries are small things that can help you out immensely.

Learn about cancer and what to expect. This will help to plan for what concerns or needs may arise, and become more comfortable if you are involved in doctor appointments or treatment sessions.

Join a support group for cancer loved ones. Meeting people who are going through the same changes may provide you with tips, support, or just a listening ear. Besides, you may be going through your own grief process over the loss of your loved one’s health. Having the chance to share your feelings with a group of people in a similar situation to you can be very therapeutic.

Take time for yourself each day. Soaking in the bath, reading before bed, watching a favorite TV show or movie, or going for a short walk can be a great reprieve from the stressors of caregiving. Stress relief techniques such as massage, yoga and guided imagery may help to recharge your battery. Thinking about cancer 24/7 and never allowing yourself to laugh, have fun and enjoy yourself won’t make you provide any better care!

Give yourself a break. Simplify meals, relax your housekeeping standards, accept help. Things can’t and won’t be perfect all the time- so what? Recognize your limits. There will be times when you are tired, angry, depressed, sad, and even resentful. That’s okay too! These are normal emotional reactions to a tough situation, so don’t feel guilty about it.

Identifying Caregiver Burnout

No matter how “strong” you are, caregivers are at risk of developing burnout over time. Burnout happens when your internal resources are overwhelmed by the worries and responsibilities of caregiving to the point where you are not longer able to provide the care. You may be burned out if you are exhausted all the time, you no longer care about the person you are caring for, or you are feeling depressed.

If you are experiencing burnout, the best thing to do is to get some assistance from others. This may mean asking someone else to step in to give you a break, or asking the healthcare team about respite care. This kind of help may give you a chance to rest, recharge, and get a handle on what is going on in your life.

Bottom Line

Caring for someone with cancer can be the most rewarding experience of your lifetime. The impact of helping your loved one may mean more to them than you will ever know. But it is also a big investment on your part, emotionally, physically, professionally, and spiritually. In order for you to be able to provide care for you loved one over the long haul, you need to make sure your needs are being met as well. Allow yourself permission to not “go it alone” and to take a break so that when your loved one needs you, you can be the best caregiver you can be.

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