Family members and close friends often take the role of a “caregiver” when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer and begins the cancer treatment process. The caregiver provides physical and emotional care for the cancer patient. Although the caregiver takes this responsibility on in love, they can also easily burn out. The stress and consequences of caregiving can take a toll on both the patient and the caregiver. Some signs that the caregiver might be experiencing caregiver stress or burn out include:
- Change in weight
- Change in the amount or pattern of sleep
- Feelings of anxiety or depression
- Increased anger or frustration
- Lack of time for their own needs
- Feeling overwhelmed or trapped
- Feeling misunderstood or unsupported
- Missing or delaying their own medical care
- Stopping routine exercise, socialization or other healthy daily activities
- Increased alcohol or drug use
It is imperative that caregivers take care of themselves and not feel guilty about doing this. If the caregiver is not healthy, he or she will not be able to effectively care for the patient either. Some suggestions for caregivers to reduce burnout and improve self care:
- Reduce Personal Stress -Recognize the symptoms of stress, identify the source of stress, identify what you can and cannot change and take action.
- Set goals – We are more likely to achieve goals if they are broken into small steps. An example – I will walk 15 minutes every day.
- Seek Solutions – Once you have identified a problem, taking action to solve it can change the situation and also change your attitude and give you more confidence.
- Communicate Constructively – Use “I” messages instead of “You” messages, respect the rights and feelings of others, be specific and clear, be a good listener.
- Ask for and Accept Help – Be honest with yourself and ask for and accept help when needed.
- Talking to you Physician – Ask for medical advice when you don’t understand the needs of the person receiving care but also seek medical support for yourself.
- Start to exercise – Exercise promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression, and increases energy and alertness.
- Learning from your emotions -Emotions are useful tools for understanding what is happening to us. So, pay attention to them.
Caregiving can be a personally fulfilling and rewarding experience. Take care of yourself in order to best care for your loved ones. They will appreciate your love and care and understand your needs as well.
About James Hankins, MSW, LCSW
James is the Director of Patient Support and Social Services at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. James specializes in providing support and counseling services for patients and their caregivers dealing with all types of cancer. He graduated from Michigan State University and received a Masters in Social Work from Wayne State University. James has spent the majority of his 20 years of professional service focusing on mental health issues related to changes in physical health with special emphasis on the challenges facing caregivers.
- Survivorship Care Plan- Are You Prepared?
- Support Groups at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
- Center for Family Caregivers
- National Alliance for Caregiving