Taking Care of Yourself

Taking care of a loved one can be a positive experience. For example, some people say that caregiving strengthened their relationship. But it can also be very stressful. Many caregivers say it often feels like a full-time job. Caregiving can be even more challenging if you have many other responsibilities, like working, raising children, or caring for your own health.

Sometimes, caregivers tend to put their own needs and feelings aside. It is important, though, for you to take good care of yourself. This will make the experience less stressful for you.

Staying Healthy

Caregivers spend a lot of time looking after the health of their loved ones. This often means that the caregiver spends less time focusing on his or her own needs, such as eating well and exercising. Yet taking care of your own physical health is an important part of caregiving.

Here are some tips for caring for your health:

Stay active. Experts recommend exercising for at least 30 minutes each day. Activities can include walking quickly, jogging, or riding a bike. Keep in mind that you don’t have to set aside a lot of time to exercise—you can work it into your day. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or park your car farther away than you normally do. Some exercises can also be done in the home, such as yoga.

Pay attention to what you’re eating. Keeping a balanced diet is an important part of taking care of yourself. Include fruits and vegetables in your meals. Nuts, yogurt, and peanut butter sandwiches are easy snacks with lots of protein that will keep your energy level up. Pack snacks if you know you will be with your loved one at the doctor’s office or the hospital all day.

Get enough sleep. Caregiving can be emotionally and physically draining. You may find yourself more tired than usual. Try to get enough sleep.—The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least seven hours per night for adults Also, take naps if you need them.

Rest regularly. As a caregiver, you may find that it is hard to relax, even if you have time for it. Deep breathing, meditating, or gentle stretching exercises can help reduce stress.

Keep up with your own checkups, screenings, and medications. Your health is very valuable. Stay on top of your own medical appointments, and have a system for remembering to take any medicines you need to stay healthy.

Getting Emotional Support

Caregiving is hard work that can affect your emotional well-being. Taking care of yourself includes coping with many of your own feelings that come up as you care for your loved one. Many people feel more emotional than usual when they are coping with a loved one’s cancer. This is normal.

You cannot make difficult feelings go away, but there are things you can do to feel better.

Here are some tips for coping with the emotional impact of your loved one’s cancer:

Take a break. If possible, take some time out for yourself regularly. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, doing something you enjoy can help you recharge. For example, listening to relaxing music or going for a walk might help you clear your head.

Be aware of your limits. Remember that there are only so many hours in a day. Feel free to say “no” when people ask you to take on tasks you don’t have the time or energy to complete.

Keep a journal. Writing sometimes helps people organize their thoughts and come up with practical solutions. Writing about your thoughts, feelings, and memories can also strengthen your spirit.

Open up to friends and family. Ask friends or family members if they would be willing to be “on call” in times of stress. Or plan a regular “check-in” time when you can get together or call each other.

Consider developing your spiritual side. For some people, this means participating in religious activities. Others find spirituality in art or nature. No matter what your beliefs are, developing your spiritual side could provide comfort during this time.

Talk to a helping professional about your feelings and worries. Many caregivers feel overwhelmed and alone. You may need more than friends or family members to talk to. Speaking with a counselor or oncology social worker may help you cope with some of your feelings and worries. CancerCare’s oncology social workers are just a phone call away.

Join a support group for caregivers. Talking with other caregivers can also help you feel less alone. CancerCare offers free face-to-face, telephone, and online support groups for caregivers. These groups provide a safe haven where you can share your concerns and learn from others who are going through similar situations.

Go easy on yourself. Sometimes, you may feel you could have done something differently. Try not to be too hard on yourself. Focus on all the positive things you are doing for your loved one.