How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
Taking care of a loved one who has cancer is certainly challenging, but if you don’t make your own health and well-being a priority, you can easily get overwhelmed by all of your caregiving tasks.
Caregivers are more likely to experience a decline in physical health than noncaregivers and a predictor of that decline is the presence of symptoms of depression, according to a 2017 study in the journal Cancer.1 If you’re raising kids and caring for someone with cancer at the same time, your life can be even more challenging.
To stay healthy and avoid burnout, follow these simple strategies:
Have a plan
Before you make any big decisions about your loved one's cancer care, it’s important to talk to them about their current and future needs. Having a plan in place will help you feel more in control and better equipped to make tough decisions when they arise. It is generally recommended that you and your loved one discuss advance directives that will map out a patient’s wishes.
Pull together your team
Between setting up treatment appointments and helping your loved one deal with insurance companies and financial issues, caregiving can be overwhelming at times. You might want to do everything yourself, but if you are unable to handle it all, you should not feel guilty or selfish.
Talk to your family members. Decide together how each person can help out. Family members who are local may be able to pick up medications at the pharmacy. Those who live out of state can help with phone calls or perhaps research appropriate clinical trials.
Seek out support
Have a shoulder to lean on
Among caregivers who said they have high levels of emotional stress, roughly 40 percent admitted they wanted help to manage that stress, according to a 2016 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving.2 Consider seeking out help from a counselor, a support group, or a friend who has been a caregiver and understands what you’re going through. A good place to start is the American Cancer Society, which can help you find support groups in your area.
When your stress levels are high, your adrenal glands release cortisol, a hormone that increases your appetite. Stress can also make you crave fat and sugar, which is why comfort foods like macaroni and cheese or chocolate are satisfying—at least initially.
Although it’s not always possible to eat a home-cooked meal, plan ahead and do your best to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats like nuts and olive oil to keep up your stamina, ward off anxiety, and lift your mood. According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, a better diet can help improve your overall health.3
Making time for exercise is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy and prevent caregiver burnout. You might not have the time for an hour at the gym, but try to fit in at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Whether it’s a walk in the park or a cardio class, the endorphin rush will make you feel better immediately.
Without enough sleep, you’ll not only lack energy throughout the day, which could make caregiving even more challenging. Sleep can be hard to come by, especially if your loved one is awake throughout the night. If possible, try to take naps or find a home care aide through an agency who can provide care at night.
Make time for yourself
In order to be the best caregiver for your loved one, you need to put on your oxygen mask first. If you don’t find ways to relax and decompress, stress can take a toll on your health and lead to headaches, insomnia, and fatigue.
Carve out time each day for activities that will center and calm you. It could be time to read a book, meet a friend for coffee, meditate, or pray.
It’s important to recognize that you might not be able to do everything as a caregiver or keep up with the same commitments you once had in other areas of your life. Identify what’s truly important, be realistic about what you can and can’t do, and say no to outside obligations that weigh you down.
When you make your own health a priority and try not to bite off more than you can chew, you’ll feel more in control, have less stress, and be a stronger caregiver for the loved one who depends on you.
1. Depressive symptoms predict cancer caregivers' physical health decline. Cancer. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.30835/full. Accessed February 23, 2018.
2. Cancer caregiving in the U.S. National Alliance for Caregiving. http://www.caregiving.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/CancerCaregivingReport_FINAL_June-17-2016.pdf. Accessed February 23, 2018.
3. 3 nutrition tips for cancer caregivers. MD Anderson Cancer Center. https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/cancerwise/2013/10/3-nutrition-tips-for-cancer-caregivers.html. Accessed February 23, 2018.
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