Taking Care of Yourself

Caregiver Stresses and Burdens

Providing care for another human being as they’re coping with cancer can cause major stress. Unfortunately, caregivers sometimes do not recognize the moment when their duties cross a line: from being manageable parts of a daily routine into being too much for a single person to handle.

By not realizing how big a burden they’re shouldering, caregivers may not understand the stress they’re under, or recognize the anxiety and depression their stress can cause. Their physical and mental health can begin to break down before they realize the reasons.

Spot the Symptoms

By recognizing the signs of stress, anxiety, and depression, you can take steps to safeguard your physical and emotional health. Doing that ensures you’re able to keep providing quality support for your patient, and isn’t that a caregiver’s real goal?

If you experience any of the typical stress symptoms listed below for two weeks or more, consider seeking help and treatment.

Stress Symptoms

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Feeling alone or isolated
  • Loss of interest in social activities
  • Problems sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Increased health problems

    Depression Symptoms

    • Feeling sad or “empty” for most of the day
    • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
    • Decreased energy/fatigue daily
    • Significant weight gain or loss
    • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
    • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

      Anxiety Symptoms

      • A feeling you’re losing control
      • Increased muscle tension
      • Trembling/shaking
      • Headaches
      • Upset stomach
      • Diarrhea
      • Sweating
      • Chest pain or discomfort
      • Racing pulse
      • Feeling short of breath
      • Fear of losing control
      • Feeling faint

      Coping Strategies and Treatments

      If you think you’re suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, there are numerous options you can take to address them:

      • Talk with a medical or psychological professional about feelings of anxiety and depression and working on ways to address them.
      • Talk openly with your patient’s healthcare team and/or family and friends about the feelings you’re experiencing.
      • Identify situations that may be causing stress, anxiety or depression.
      • Begin solving the “little” problems that are causing you stress, then build up to addressing the “big” problems.
      • Don’t keep your feelings inside or blame yourself for any of them.
      • Increase the amount of contact you have with other people.
      • Make an effort to do activities that are pleasurable or fun.

      *Adapted from the DSM-IV-TR
      Caregiver’s Bill of Rights

      I have the right…

      • To take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness. It will give me the capability of taking better care of the patient.
      • To seek help from others even though my relatives/friends may object. I recognize the limits of my own endurance and strength.
      • To maintain facets of my own life that do not include the person I care for, just as I would if he or she were healthy. I know that I do everything that I reasonably can for the patient, and I have the right to do some things just for myself.
      • To get angry, be depressed and express other difficult feelings occasionally.
      • To reject any attempts by my relative/friend (either conscious or unconscious) to manipulate me through guilt and/or depression.
      • To receive consideration, affection, forgiveness and acceptance for what I do for the patient as long as I offer these qualities in return.
      • To take pride in what I am accomplishing and to applaud the courage it has sometimes taken to meet the needs of the patient.
      • To protect my individuality and my right to make a life for myself that will sustain me in the time when the patient no longer needs my help.

      *Adapted from Today’s Caregiver Magazine

      Improving Communication

      Sometimes, patients diagnosed with cancer may find it hard to ask for help or even just talk about their disease. For a caregiver, this can be frustrating. How can you know if the patient is having trouble? Do they have needs or concerns they may not be able to express?

      By following these tips, you may be able to better communicate with a cancer patient … and by communicating, show your real concern and care:

      • Be a good listener. Sometimes, all patients need is for someone to simply listen to them.
      • Be comfortable with the patient’s silence. Silence allows individuals to think deeply without interruption, which may help them to express their thoughts and feelings more easily.
      • Never underestimate the power of a warm and loving touch. A touch may communicate more than words can say.
      • Talk to the patient about topics other than cancer. This can help a patient feel more like a normal person.
      • Be specific about the help you can offer. Instead of saying, “Let me know if you need help,” be specific about the kind of assistance you can give them. Patients with cancer may not know how to ask for help or know what help is available for them. Being specific with the help you can give sends a message that you are interested and genuine about your offer. Some samples of specific suggestions? Offering to prepare a meal, give a ride to and from appointments, lending a hand with child care…
      • Continue to visit and stay in touch. People with cancer can feel very lonely and isolated. Your presence can be comforting and reassuring and help ease their fears and loneliness.

       *Adapted from the American Cancer Society