By Heather Valladarez, social work counselor
"How do I work, take care of my kids, be a good spouse, and find care for my loved one during the day?"
"I am taking care of my dad throughout the day, but I don't have any time for myself. This is becoming stressful."
These are just some of the situations that bring stress to caregivers for cancer patients.
While the caregiving experience can be extremely rewarding, it can also be very challenging. This so-called caregiver fatigue can be difficult both physically and emotionally.
As a cancer caregiver, you may experience any or all of the following emotional or physical stressors:
- feeling overwhelmed
- a lack of energy or feeling tired for long periods of time
- sleeping too much or too little
- weight gain, weight loss or other physical symptoms
- losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
The good news is there are several things you can do to cope with the stress that comes from being a cancer caregiver.
Here are some tips that can help.
Make your own health a priority: When caring for a loved one with cancer, your health can take a backseat. But it's important to stay healthy so you can better care for your loved one. Maintain a healthy diet by planning out meals to make at home a few days ahead of time. This will also help free up your schedule for caregiver responsibilities you didn't anticipate.
Be sure to exercise as well. Even a 20-minute walk each day can help increase your energy level, reduce your stress, and help alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety. All of these benefits will help with the stresses of caregiving.
Sleep well: It's recommended for adults to get seven to nine hours of sleep a day. Even though this isn't always possible for caregivers, setting a goal for how much sleep you want to get each day will help with fatigue in the long run. If you struggle to fall or stay asleep, you may be able to get help at the MD Anderson Sleep Center, which treats insomnia, excessive sleepiness, sleep-disordered breathing and sleep-related movement disorders. Learn more by calling 713-792-4017.
Take a break: If you are a full-time caregiver for your loved one, you can't always take a break. But learning techniques to de-stress throughout the day can be extremely helpful. Try closing your eyes for 5 or 10 minutes, listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a short walk or calling a friend for a quick laugh.
Seek support: You don't have to go through this alone. MD Anderson offers a variety of support services not just for patients, but for their families and caregivers as well. You can ask your loved one's social work counselor for resources for caregivers. Also don't be afraid to talk to a counselor or seek spiritual help.
To learn more about coping with the caregiving role or managing any other type of stress you might have, ask to speak with your social work counselor or contact Social Work at 713-792-6195.
MD Anderson resources for caregivers and family members
3 nutrition tips for cancer caregivers
5 health tips for cancer caregivers
What makes patients and caregivers smile on their toughest days