A caregiver can be anyone who is helping someone through cancer. Help can take many forms from accompanying someone to doctor appointments, helping with daily activities, organizing schedules, or providing emotional support.
Caring for someone with cancer is a vital and challenging role. In order to be good caregivers, caregivers also require support and resources.
Self-care is important for any caregiver in order to manage stress and anxiety, avoid burnout, find community, and recharge.
Dealing with Being a Caregiver
The National Cancer Institute recommends the following strategies that caregivers can use to address their own mental, emotional, and physical needs.
- Take at least 15-30 min per day to relax and do something you enjoy.
- Keep up with some of your regular activities
- Ask for help from others
- Have an outlet for your own thoughts and feelings
- Join a support group – in person or online
- Educate yourself about cancer
- Connect with your loved one with cancer
- Keep up with your own checkups, screenings, and medical appointments
- Be mindful of signs of depression or anxiety
- Try to eat healthy meals, rest, and exercise
Studies show that caregivers for people with cancer are at increased risk of poor mental health, particularly if they provide significant amounts of care over time.
The sources of stress are valid and varied – caregiving on top of other responsibilities like work or family, feeling overwhelmed by the medical system, changing relationships, financial hardship, fear, hope, and uncertainty, just to name a few.
Caregivers often feel they cannot attend to their own needs or mental health because they need to be strong for the person they are caring for.
New stresses and daily demands on the caregiver can contribute to negative physical changes like fatigue, a weakened immune system, poor sleep, headaches, anxiety, and depression.
But caregiving is not a completely negative experience. Caregivers have reported a greater sense of meaning and purpose as well as deeper relationships with those close to them, especially the loved one for whom they provide care.
It can be helpful for caregivers to create outlets for their feelings like journaling or connect with others who can understand the caregiving experience in in-person or online support groups. Caregivers may want to learn more about the risks of depression and anxiety, be mindful of personal mood changes, and understand their resources and options such as speaking to a therapist.