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Caregiving: Practicing Self-Care

How and why caregivers should care for themselves

PUBLISHED WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27, 2013
In the chaos and intensity that surrounds a new cancer diagnosis, everyone tends to focus all of their care and concern on the patient. While caregivers often brush their own needs aside, experts warn that selfless devotion can backfire.

The constant stress of providing care can make caregivers more vulnerable to getting sick or burned out. Caregivers should look at their stress level and try to prevent burnout before it happens. Below are some ways to prevent burnout.

Reach out. Caring for someone full-time can lead to feelings of panic, despair and isolation. And after the initial crisis of diagnosis and treatment, there's often a lingering worry that the cancer could return. Caregivers should reach out to friends, family, online chat groups and support organizations to help reduce feelings of isolation.

Support groups for cancer patients and caregivers can be located through local hospitals or the American Cancer Society. It makes a huge difference for caregivers to know they're not alone in their experiences or feelings. They should try exercise, meditation and other stress reduction techniques, too. If nothing seems to help, it may be time to consult a therapist or doctor.

Accept help. If friends or neighbors ask what they can do to help, the caregiver should tell them. Veteran caregivers suggest keeping a list ready; that way the caregiver can let others know exactly what is needed. If friends or relatives are not available to step in for a few hours, the caregiver may want to hire someone or find adult day care. The U.S. Administration on Aging offers a national database of eldercare providers at eldercare.gov.

[Setting Up a Caregiver Team]

Get some sleep. To overcome insomnia, experts suggest everything from guided imagery and relaxation techniques to acupuncture and even warm milk. Cutting back on late afternoon caffeine and adding exercise, especially yoga, may also help a caregiver to sleep better. Sometimes it helps to write down any worries and "release" them for the day before heading to bed. If all else fails, it may be time for the caregiver to consider a sleep aid.

Stay healthy. With everything they have to do in a day, caregivers often neglect basic health maintenance. Some simple things to keep in mind include eating regular meals that are rich in fruits and vegetables, staying hydrated and exercising, even if it's just a brisk 15-minute walk each day. Caregivers should line up help so they can keep regular appointments for dental cleanings, health screenings and annual checkups, too.

Find meaning. Caregivers who can take their experience with cancer and learn from it may have less depression and anxiety. Caregiving can help people find more meaning in life and focus on their highest priorities. Caregivers should work on personal growth by participating in an art therapy workshop, beginning a journal, talking with a counselor or leaning on their spiritual community.

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