Self-care tips: Caring for the caregiver

As a caregiver, it’s easy to get caught up in the tasks at hand — doctor appointments, grocery shopping, housework and preparing meals — just to name a few. Taking care of yourself may seem simple, but often doesn’t make the priority list. Your loved one’s well-being depends in part on you. Here are a few tips to keep you at the top of your physical, emotional and mental health game.

Pay attention to your needs. Don’t let your health take a backseat — when you are healthy, you’re likely to be a better caregiver.

  • Get enough sleep. Aim for eight hours every day.
  • Eat healthy foods and stay hydrated.
  • Exercise daily. Something as simple as a 20-minute walk can help increase your energy level, reduce your stress, and help alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • See your doctor for regular check-ups.
  • Maintain social connections. Don’t isolate yourself. Keep in touch with friends and family through visits, phone calls or emails.

Ask for and accept help. While it may be hard to ask, family and friends are often looking for ways to help. Make a list of caregiving tasks and divide the tasks among friends and family who can help.
Find support and share. Talk with someone who is going through a similar cancer experience — it can be helpful and even reassuring. Although everyone’s experience is different, seek advice and strategies that might be adapted to fit your situation.

Get organized and plan ahead. Keep accurate records all in one place. Track medical history, test results, medications, and contact information for your loved one’s healthcare team. Keep health insurance information and important legal/financial forms handy. Keep a calendar to write down appointments and a journal for questions that crop up between doctor appointments.

Work together. Your loved one’s healthcare team is a valuable resource — build a good relationship and communicate openly. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Your questions can provide essential information.
Take a break from cancer and stay connected. Set your focus on something other than cancer. Take a break and do something fun with your loved one — go to the movies, take a walk, play a board game or take a drive. Adapt your plans if necessary, but don’t let living with cancer define your relationship.

Knowledge is power. Learn everything you can about your loved one’s diagnosis. Understanding the facts will help you best support your loved one.

Watch for signs of caregiver burnout. It’s easy to overlook or completely miss the signs of caregiver stress, which may include: weight loss or gain, trouble sleeping, feeling depressed and overwhelmed or having a tendency to overreact. If you’re experiencing any of these, talk to your doctor.

Taking care of yourself while in the midst of caring for someone you love is difficult. It may be the last thing you want to think about, but it’s vital to both you and your loved one. The bottom line for caregivers — take care of yourself while in the midst of caring for someone you love.