Caring for a family member with a chronic illness can be a rewarding yet challenging experience. The physical and emotional demands of the role of caregiver can leave you feeling overwhelmed. We want to share some coping strategies and self-care tips that might help you be there for your loved one.
Increase Your Self-awareness.
Stop for a moment. Are you hungry? When did you last eat? Are you on any medications for your own health? Have you taken them as prescribed today? Are you exhausted? How much sleep have you been getting lately?
If you’re not keeping up with what your body needs and how you feel, you won’t be able to help your loved one with the details of their treatment or their vital daily needs for food, rest and contact.
Make a habit of checking in with yourself regularly, asking, “what do I need right now?” and ensuring that you get it.
Ask for Help.
You cannot physically do it all. And there’s no shame in not being able to meet every one of your loved one’s needs 24/7. You don’t have to cook and clean and manage their appointments and make sure the pets get fed all alone.
Help can come in many forms; it may be professional medical assistance or a reliever who will help watch your family member so you can have time for yourself. Or a cleaning team or mobile vet-and-grooming service that brings services to you. It might be enlisting other family members or friends to sit with your loved one while you run errands—or deputizing them to run the errands while you and your loved one rest.
Imagining entrusting your loved one to anyone else may be stressful. But respite care options, such as in-home respite, adult care centers and short-term nursing homes, are available and can be a way of encouraging your loved one’s independence. The experience may also introduce you to some innovative technologies and strategies to improve your quality of care.
Set Personal Boundaries.
While taking care of a sick loved one is a huge responsibility, it should not consume your life. Instead, establish a routine for yourself that includes adequate sleep, hobbies, socializing and other activities that are solely yours.
Scheduling regular breaks should also be a priority. They can be small, daily breaks or longer scheduled time off. Even a short walk outdoors each day can help you recharge.
Remember, protecting your well-being is crucial to keeping you physically and emotionally stable and equipped to provide the best care.
Find Support and Share Your Feelings.
All of the emotions you feel are valid, including resentment and guilt. Negative emotions are a normal part of the caregiving journey. However, they can escalate if bottled up. The best way to deal with these emotions is to share them with a support group or a friend. Journaling your experiences may also help.
Express Your Gratitude.
It’s common, as a caregiver, to feel guilt when you focus on yourself and practice self-care. However, your loved one also likely feels burdened thinking that a portion of your life is being taken from you. Strengthening your emotional bond is crucial for your relationship: Expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to be the one to provide their care is one way. And even more importantly, practice gratitude for yourself by giving yourself the credit you deserve for your attention and care.
Learning to see the small, good things in every day can help prevent you from developing a negative outlook. A gratitude practice creates a positive feedback loop that increases your awareness of the positives and builds your mental and emotional resilience to face whatever each day brings.
More than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We’d be honored to join your loved one’s medical care team. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.