Taking Care of Yourself as a Caregiver

Cancer affects not only the person diagnosed but also family and friends. The biggest impact though can be on the caregiver.  Being a caregiver involves extra tasks on top of daily life, leading to a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. This can lead to a 'Caregiver Burnout' and may be accompanied by a change of attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. A burnout happens when caregivers do not get the help they need, trying to do more than they are able to, physically or financially. 

A Burnout can lead to many different health concerns 

  • Fatigue 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Digestive problems 
  • Aches and pains from tense muscles
  • Headaches 
  • Nausea 
  • Suppress the immune system 

Improving your mental health and learning how to cope with different emotions can make you feel better, making it easier to support someone through cancer and creating a stronger relationship between you. Many caregivers do not recognise when they are going through a burnout, eventually getting to the point where they cannot function effectively. Therefore leading to the health problems above. 

Feelings you may experience 

Guilt   
You may feel bad that you can’t help more.
Fear & Uncertainty   It's hard not to worry about the person with cancer and the future. 
Shifting Roles 
Caregiving can change relationships. This isn’t bad. But, it can be upsetting when someone who has been a source of strength is suddenly vulnerable.
Overwhelmed 
You may feel overwhelmed by all you have to do, and as though everything is falling on your shoulders.
Financial Worries 
The costs of cancer care can be a source of stress. Also, you and the patient may be unable to work full-time—or at all.
Loneliness  You may not be able to see family and friends as much as before. 

 

The demands on a caregiver's body, mind and emotions can easily seem overwhelming, leading to fatigue, hopelessness and ultimately burnout. The symptoms of a burnout are similar to stress and depression. 

Symptoms: 

  • Withdrawal from friends & family 
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite, weight or both
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Getting sick more often
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Irritability

How to prevent a caregiver burnout 

Recognise your Emotions  Recognising the signs of stress early, so you begin to work towards what will help you feel better. 
Ask for Help  Write a list of errands and ask family and friends which errand they can do. 
Healthy Eating  This will improve fatigue, help you think more clearly and feel more alert. 
Stay Hydrated  
This helps to increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain, resulting in being able to balance mood and emotions better. 
Accept your Feelings 
Having negative feelings about your responsibilities or the person for whom you are caring is normal. It does not mean you are a bad person or a bad caregiver. 
Use a Journal  Some people find it helpful to write down their feelings. This can help you recognise what did go well and why you felt good that particular day. 
Join a Caregiver Group 
Sharing your feelings and experiences with others in the same situation can help you manage stress, locate helpful resources, and reduce feelings of frustration and isolation. 
Educate Yourself  Learn about the cancer and what possible side effects can happen and how to reduce them. This will make you prepared and feel more in control. 

 

How to reduce stress and depression 

Yoga  Encourages mental and physical relaxation, whilst helping to release emotions and tensions. 
Deep Breathing 
Increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Try different deep breathing exercises to find the one that works best for you. 
Exercise 
Regular exercise can enhance self-confidence, improve your mood and sleep, help you relax, and lower symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Aromatherapy 
Known for both its psychological and physical benefits, aromatherapy can promote relaxation and improve signs of stress. In addition, it can stimulate the immune system, ease muscle tension and boost circulation.  
Reduce Caffeine 
High quantities of caffeine can increase stress and anxiety. Try having herbal tea instead. 
Chew Gum  This may sound strange, but one study has shown people who chew gum had a greater sense of wellbeing and lower stress levels. 
One possible explanation is that chewing gum causes brain waves similar to those of relaxed people. Another is that chewing gum promotes blood flow to your brain.
Take Time Out 

Watch a funny film, go shopping or take a walk. Even if it's just a quick cup of tea, taking a break will help calm your thoughts down, help you reflect on your day and prepare you for the next task ahead. 

Listen to Music 

Slow-paced instrumental music can induce the relaxation response by helping lower blood pressure and heart rate as well as stress hormones.

 

For more help and tips read - 'Caring for Someone with Cancer: Beginners guide'