Stress Management for Caregivers
Caregivers of people with cancer are often asked to take on a variety of new roles for their loved one. This, in addition to the emotional distress that can result from a cancer diagnosis, can often cause high levels of stress. Furthermore, caregivers will often delay seeking help for themselves, because they are so focused on their caregiving roles. Read on to learn more about common challenges that caregivers may face, and practical tips for managing stress associated with caregiving.
Who is a Caregiver?
A caregiver is anyone who provides emotional and/or physical support to a person with cancer, and is not paid for the care they provide. A caregiver does not need to be a blood relative – they can be a neighbor or close family friend. The primary caregiver is the person who is most involved in providing care to the person with cancer. Secondary caregivers provide backup support to the main caregiver, or play another important role on an as-needed basis. Two-thirds of primary caregivers are the person with cancer’s spouse or partner, and the majority of caregivers are women.
Taking on the Role of Caregiver
Some people become caregivers gradually – their loved ones develop symptoms slowly, or may need several tests before the cancer is diagnosed. Others become a caregiver more suddenly. Either way, a cancer diagnosis often brings an unexpected change in one’s life. As a result, caregivers seldom have the chance to get their own lives in order prior to becoming a caregiver.
Additionally, caregivers often feel unprepared to provide the care that is expected of them. They are often expected to provide complex care with little preparation or support. Many people with cancer can return home from the hospital with drains, tubes, ports and even IV infusions. And because of the ongoing nature of the illness and the concerns about reoccurrence, caregivers often have to provide support for an extended period of time.
How Stress Can Affect Caregivers
In general, caregivers experience the stress of their role in two ways: emotionally and physically. Some of the emotional effects of stress include increased anxiety, difficulty concentrating, irritability and depression. The most common physical effects of stress are fatigue and difficulty sleeping. Some studies say that these physical symptoms are reported by about 60% of caregivers of people with cancer. Caregivers often feel frustrated by these effects because it makes it difficult for them to function and meet the demands placed upon them.
Because of these potential outcomes, it’s extremely important for caregivers to take care of themselves, as well as the patient. Caregivers often neglect their own health, as they focus all of their attention on the person with cancer. However, in order for caregivers to continue to be able to fulfill their important role, they must give themselves permission to treat themselves with kindness.
It’s completely normal to feel stressed as a caregiver, and it’s not a sign that a person is coping poorly. However, it’s important to be aware of your stress and try to get the help and support that you need.
Self-Care Tips and Suggestions
Look Into Counseling Services. A counseling service can afford you the time to talk about you individual needs, questions and concerns. Counseling can also help caregivers explore the tools they need to cope with a loved one’s diagnosis. Often, caregivers feel the need to hold in all their emotions in order to shield their loved ones, and for many caregivers, speaking with an oncology social worker can help relieve some of the stress that this can create.
Consider Joining a Support Group. Support groups are safe spaces, where caregivers can talk about their concerns and fears. Making connections through a support group can also help lessen the feelings of isolation that caregivers experience. Feeling emotionally well can help you better deal with your loved one’s diagnosis.
Set Aside Time for Yourself. Oftentimes, caregivers feel guilty about taking time for themselves to manage their own self-care. Sometimes, it helps to set up time in advance to take a break and focus on self-care. This time does not have to be extensive and you do not have to go far away – maybe focus on a hobby for an hour, or go out to lunch with a friend.
Keep a Journal. Caregivers often mention the difficulty of watching their loved one experience emotional and physical distress. Keeping a journal and writing down reactions, concerns and wants can be a helpful way to acknowledge and process emotions.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help. Though many caregivers feel like they do not want to burden others by asking for help, they will often find that family, friends and neighbors are more willing to assist than they realized. Even asking for help with small tasks can make a big difference in a caregiver’s well-being.
For additional information, you can listen to our Connect Education Workshop, “Stress Management for Caregivers: Practical Tips to Cope”.