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Taking care of a person who has cancer takes time, work, and effort. Caregivers often forget to take care of their own physical and emotional health. It’s important to take things one day at a time and know you will have good days and bad days. Give yourself credit for the responsibility you have taken on. It is a tough job!

Caregivers who take care of their own well-being can give better care to their loved ones. Here are 12 things the social workers at Huntsman Cancer Institute recommend caregivers ask themselves each day.

The Daily Dozen

  1. Have I moved or exercised for at least 10 minutes?
  2. Have I eaten enough nutritious food?
  3. Have I taken a bath or shower?
  4. Have I slept at least 5 hours in a reasonably comfortable bed or taken a restorative nap?
  5. Have I talked to at least one adult about how I am doing and not just about my loved one?
  6. Have I laughed?
  7. Have I spent at least 10 minutes of meditation, prayer, or quiet thought?
  8. Have I set and met a few practical goals such as doing the dishes or walking the dog?
  9. Have I looked or been outside or had some exposure to sunshine?
  10. Have I had positive physical contact with my loved one not related to caregiving such as hugging or holding hands?
  11. Have I let others help me?
  12. Have I named one good thing that has happened or been grateful for something in my day that is going okay?

About Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is a normal response to caring for a loved one who has a long-term illness. In fact, studies show more than 50% of caregivers experience burnout. The effects of burnout are similar to feeling depressed. 

People feel burnout differently, but it often has physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects:

  • A feeling that something bad is going to happen
  • Various feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, and grief
  • Fatigue
  • Hard time concentrating, making decisions, or problem solving
  • Headaches and muscle tension
  • Shaking or trembling 
  • Sleep problems

It is important to know about caregiver burnout so you can recognize any signs. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for yourself and your loved one with cancer. You can take steps to relieve stress related to caregiver burnout. 

Self-Care Tips for Caregiver

Make Self-Care a Priority

  • Always take care of your own health. Always.
  • Try to get plenty of sleep each night.
  • Let yourself grieve—to cry, to feel numb, to be angry, or to feel however you are feeling.
  • Take regularly scheduled time to relax and recharge.
  • Say “no” to unnecessary tasks.
  • Be present in the moment whenever possible.
  • Find a little joy in each and every day.

Simplify to Avoid Overload

  • Complete one task at a time. Avoid multi-tasking when you can.
  • Break big blocks of information into smaller chunks to understand them better.
  • Create daily and weekly schedules. Check items off as you complete them.
  • Organize information so you can find it when you need it.
  • Write down your tasks and your concerns.

Let Others Help You

  • Remember that asking for help is a sign of strength and awareness, not a weakness.
  • Find specific tasks for family members, friends, and neighbors who offer to help. Here are examples of things helpers can do for you:
    • Cover you for a night out with friends or quiet time alone at home
    • Clean the house
    • Shop for groceries
    • Make household repairs
    • Mow the lawn or shovel snow
    • Prepare meals
    • Offer a shoulder to cry on

Get Support

  • Connect with other caregivers. Share stories and tips.
  • Talk it out. Consider meeting with a social worker or support group. Get professional counseling right away if you feel overwhelmed or depressed.
  • Be open to resources and technology such as online help and social media support groups.
  • Educate yourself. Knowing all you can about your loved one’s cancer may help you feel more in control and help you set realistic expectations.

When Your Loved One Stays in the Hospital

A loved one staying in the hospital can be very stressful. As a caregiver, you want to be there for your loved one, but you need to take care of yourself, too.

  • Remember to rest. Leave the hospital at night and try to sleep so you are refreshed for the next day.
  • Eat to keep up your strength. Have regular meals and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Know it is OK to spend some time away from the hospital. Do something you enjoy to give your mind a rest.
  • Keep in contact with family and friends.
  • Be sure to use the many Huntsman Cancer Institute services available for patients and their caregivers. Most of them are free.

Communication Tips

When a person you love has a serious illness such as cancer, it can be hard to know what to say. Talking with your loved one can help both of you through this difficult time. Here are some suggestions for communicating with a loved one who is ill.

When you want to say:

Try this instead:

You will be just fine.

What do you worry about?

I can’t believe this is happening.

I am so sorry you are going through this.

Don’t talk like that! You can beat this!

It must be hard to have this happen.

I can’t see how anyone can help.

We will always be here for you.

I can’t talk about this.

I am feeling overwhelmed right now. Can we talk about this later today?

We all feel tired sometimes.

I am so sorry you are feeling tired.

What do the doctors know? You might live forever.

How does it seem to you? Do you think the doctors are right?

Don’t give up. I need you here.

I want you here and will miss you terribly. But I will get through somehow.

You need to get out of the house.

How would you feel about going out? If it is too much for you we can come straight home.

There has to be something more to do.

Let’s be sure you get the best medical treatments, but let’s be together when we have done all we can..

Don’t be sad. You will get well.

Can I just sit with you for a while?

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