When a person steps into a caregiving role, his or her life can change quickly. It’s easy to feel scared when a loved one has cancer, and it can be especially overwhelming to be the primary caregiver of a person with cancer. Without strategies for self-care, caregivers can get burnt out. Caregiver burnout occurs when people providing care become physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by their role. Learn more from Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA), a leading cancer care provider in New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area.
A friend or family member who helps a person during cancer treatment is known as a caregiver. Responsibilities can vary depending on the patient’s needs, but often include:
Because going through the process of cancer treatment takes a toll, both patients and caregivers need to practice self-care.
Without the proper support in place, caregivers can become overwhelmed. Symptoms of caregiver burnout might include:
Because caregivers tend to focus on their loved one’s needs, they may lose sight of how much their burnout has progressed.
Self-care is the set of practices a person uses to invest in his or her physical and psychological health, manage stress, and find balance in life. For caregivers, these can include:
Being a caregiver requires stamina, so sleep, diet, and exercise need to be priorities. If caregivers are feeling tired or depleted, they won’t be able to support their loved one as effectively as they could with proper rest and renewal.
Staying healthy starts with a nutritious diet. When a person is busy with caregiving responsibilities, it may be tempting to reach for fast food or caffeine. Instead, caregivers should strive to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. On days when they are bringing a patient to and from appointments, keeping a water bottle handy and packing healthy snacks such as nuts or dried fruit can help them stay hydrated and energized.
Getting enough rest is crucial, as well. Caregiving can be draining, and without adequate sleep, a person is more likely to get sick. Setting a bedtime routine and sticking to it can help caregivers get the sleep they need. Adults should seek at least seven hours of sleep a night. To wind down at the end of the day, it can help to read a book, drink a cup of herbal tea, and avoid looking at screens before going to sleep.
When people have cancer, they need a network of loved ones they can rely on. But their primary caregivers need a support system, too. Caregivers should connect with trusted friends and family members who can offer assistance. This may entail practical support, such as providing respite care for the patient so the primary caregiver can take a break. Or it may be offering a shoulder to cry on when the caregiver is frustrated or overwhelmed.
It’s normal for caregivers to feel a range of emotions, both positive and negative, about their role. It can be helpful to join a support group to talk with other caregivers who have had similar experiences. In these groups, caregivers can share strategies and create a safe space to share their feelings. Seeing a therapist for one-on-one counseling also can help a caregiver process feelings in a non-judgmental setting.
At times, caregivers might feel like they have a never-ending to-do list. But caregivers need to step away once in a while and do the things they enjoy. Whether it’s going for a walk with a friend, visiting a museum, or playing a favorite sport, caregivers need to remember that it’s OK to take a break. Doing things they enjoy can help caregivers reduce their stress and clear their minds.
The expert oncology team at Regional Cancer Care Associates has extensive experience treating all types of cancer and blood disorders, and with providing support and resources for both patients and their caregivers. With 20+ locations throughout New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area, patients can look to RCCA for compassionate cancer care close to home. For more information about cancer treatment and caregiver resources, request an appointment today.