10 Tips for Caregivers: Avoid Burnout and Stay on Top of Things Without Losing Your Mind!

+ Pamela Friedman

When I was going through cancer, I was so busy coping with what was happening to me that I had little time to consider what the rest of my family was going through. Later, as I looked back, I realized that my mom and dad had experienced just as many difficulties caring for me as I had going through the disease.

Caring for a loved one with cancer may be one of the most difficult, stressful, and exhausting things you will ever do in your life. The important thing is to realize the enormity of the job, and then do whatever you can to get help with it. I’ve provided ten tips below to make it just a little bit easier. If you have more, be sure to write in and let me know!

1. Learn as much as you can. Cancer is scary for everybody. Once you know the diagnosis, learn as much as you can through your doctor, nurse, various medical team members, and the Internet. The more you know, the more prepared you’ll feel.

2. Get help. Don’t think for a second you can do this alone! Get in touch with your local cancer center and find out what services they may provide for free (such as massages for patients and their family members). Reach out to support groups in your community, and consider attending one for caregivers. Ask family members and friends to pitch in with meals, emails, and whatever else you may need help with.

3. Make your own folder. Get a 3-ring binder and fill it with lists of your loved one’s current medications, names of doctors, appointment history, etc. Put a legal pad inside for your notes and questions. Get used to taking it with you to every doctor’s appointment.

4. Find emotional support. Caregivers experience their own anxiety, despair, rage, and sadness. Accept your emotions and add some coping mechanisms into your life. Journal, talk to a good friend or family member, listen to soothing music, take an art class, or go to a counselor if you need to.

5. Practice stress relief. Get into a regular exercise routine, and try meditation, yoga, long walks, hot baths, aromatherapy, massage, deep breathing, and other methods of encouraging relaxation. Every day do something nice for yourself!

6. Maintain your boundaries. No one can be expected to give, give, give 24 hours a day. If you start to feel resentful, angry, grouchy, or just irritated, realize that you could take these emotions out on your loved one. Much better to take breaks when you need to, and spend some time away to help yourself regroup.

7. Give yourself something to look forward to. Caregiving can often feel like a long hike through a dark tunnel with no end in sight. You must plan things to look forward to to keep your spirits up-a weekend away, an afternoon off by yourself to go shopping, an evening at the movies, or a day to just listen to your favorite music or read a good book.

8. Get things in order. Everyone, whether they have cancer or not, should have in place necessary paperwork such as a power of attorney and a will. Ask your loved one if he/she needs assistance. Taking care of this step early in the process will give you both peace of mind for whatever is to come.

9. Don’t neglect your family/friends/activities. When caregiving, we tend to devote all our spare time to our loved one, at the expense of everyone and everything else. Reconnect by having lunch with a friend, calling a close family member, or spending a couple hours playing basketball, if that is your passion. These activities will rejuvenate you.

10. Watch out for your own health. Do you feel tired most of the time? Have you lost weight? Do you suffer regular digestive stress? Don’t increase your risk of disease by neglecting yourself. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, keep your own doctor’s appointments, and stay alert to any signs of physical or emotional problems.

Do you have tips for other caregivers? Please share.

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