Cancer caregiving: Tips for self-care and well-being

Caregiving for someone with cancer is never easy. Relationship roles change, family responsibilities shift and stress and anxiety mount. Taking care of yourself is one of the things you can do to be a better caregiver.

Giving yourself a small break from “all-cancer-all-the-time” will recharge the mental, emotional and physical resources you need to support your loved one with cancer.

Not sure you can be that indulgent? Try one of these tips – whether you try one a day or just one this week – you may find it makes a huge difference in how you feel about yourself and about caregiving.

Identify and acknowledge your feelings.
You have a right to ALL of them. Sometimes just identifying what you’re feeling or where your stresses are – without that inner judge screaming at you – can help to provide perspective and may make the emotions that come with the situation seem less overwhelming.

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Take care of your body. Caregivers are less likely than non-caregivers to practice preventive healthcare and report problems attending to their own health and well-being while managing caregiving responsibilities. Eat balanced meals rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Be physically active – even if it’s just for a short walk every day. Remember the importance of sleep – this gives your body and mind a chance to recharge and helps you to make better decisions about food and physical activity.

Find your happy place. Whether it’s listening to music, working in the garden, or going for a walk, make an effort to engage in activities you enjoy. Sometimes it’s good to do this even when you don’t feel like it.

Pamper yourself. It may seem indulgent, but a little TLC for yourself can go a long way. Take a warm bath or a soothing shower. Make time for a manicure or a massage.

Remember to laugh! Laughter is good medicine. Buy a light-hearted book or rent a comedy. Make an effort to find some humor in everyday situations.

Reach out to friends and family. Whether it’s a phone call with a friend or family member or an afternoon out, maintaining your social relationships is an important resource for you as a caregiver. You may feel that you shouldn’t burden people with your feelings because you’re not the one who is sick. However, talking about the illness and how you feel can help relieve stress.

Embrace the power of expression. Sometimes you want to process things on your own or keep some information private. Try keeping a journal. Write down your thoughts and feelings. Focus on what your thoughts and feelings are – rather than what you think they should be or what you think you deserve for them to be.

Know your limits. Some problems are serious and are more than just a response to stress. Contact a mental health professional for help, particularly if you: feel depressed or anxious, have thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, or have problems with alcohol or other drugs.

Remember, it is not selfish to focus on your own needs and desires when you are a caregiver — it’s an important part of the job. Finding ways to acknowledge and nurture yourself will bring new energy and enthusiasm into your life as a partner, friend and caregiver.

To learn more about the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center visit bcm.edu/cancercenter. To schedule an appointment, call (713) -798-2262.

-By Hoda Badr, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Medicine-Epidemiology and Population Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine

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