Taking care of… yourself
For many caregivers, supporting loved ones in their cancer journeys can be both rewarding and overwhelming. While caring for others, caregivers can forget to care for themselves or neglect their own needs.
As a result, over time, caregivers may find themselves constantly exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally. They may fall ill more often, experience changes in eating or sleeping patterns, and lose interest in their favourite hobbies or pastimes. Or, they may experience mood swings and find their attitude changing from one of positivity and zealousness to one of negativity and indifference.
While caring for their loved ones may be important, it is equally important for caregivers to take care of themselves so that they remain in good shape to care for others.
If you are a caregiver, here are some suggestions on how to avoid a burnout.
1) Get organised
Trying to meet the many responsibilities of caregiving can be daunting and tiring. Create a realistic daily “to-do list” to help you stay organised and keep your priorities in order.
2) Rotate caregiving duties
Do not be afraid to ask for help. Get someone else to be a secondary caregiver so that you can have some time away from your duties. This may also help to reduce over-dependency on you as the primary caregiver. Also, learn to accept offers of help from others, and suggest specific things or errands that they can do to help you.
3) Make time for yourself
Staying organised and asking for help will enable you to allocate some time for yourself. Intentional self-care is important as you need to recharge physically, mentally and emotionally before returning to your caregiving duties. Catch up on your reading, listen to your favourite music or engage in any activity or hobby which you enjoy, and give yourself a chance to relax and stay grounded.
4) Practise relaxation exercises
Set aside regular time for relaxation exercises such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or aromatherapy. Choose a quiet and peaceful environment that will help you feel calm and relaxed – it could be a cosy corner of your home, the park, or the beach. Remove yourself from distraction and allow yourself to immerse in a purposeful time of relaxation. This can help you slow down the harried pace of your everyday life as a caregiver.
5) Stay healthy
Exercise will not only improve your physical health, but also help to reduce stress and anxiety. During exercise, your body releases endorphins, dopamine and serotonin which are hormones that can improve your mood and make you feel better about yourself. Also, eat a healthy and balanced diet and try to establish a good sleep routine.
6) Stay connected
Make an effort to stay connected with family members and friends who can offer much-needed emotional support. Set aside time to catch up with a friend for a cup of coffee, watch a movie or go for a walk.
Get to know other caregivers by joining or forming a social support network to exchange stories and tips so that you can provide and enjoy mutual encouragement. You can also take part in caregiving workshops to learn new skills, or attend psycho-educational programmes to develop emotional coping techniques and resilience. Staying connected helps you to know that you are not alone.
7) Seek professional help when needed
If you feel so overwhelmed that it affects your health, daily routine or relationships, do consider seeking help from a mental health professional such as a counsellor. Talking to a counsellor allows you to express your thoughts and feelings freely in a non-judgmental and safe environment. You may also gain new perspectives on how to care and balance between your own needs and that of your loved ones.
Adapted from CanHOPE resources. CanHOPE is a non-profit cancer counselling and support service provided by Parkway Cancer Centre. For more information, go to https://www.canhope.org
Tags: cancer caregiver, fatigue, self-care strategies