Refresher Course: Getting Over Caregiver Fatigue to Prevent Burnout

CURE, Melanoma Special Issue, Volume 1, Issue 1

Over time, a feeling of exhaustion and burnout, known as "caregiver fatigue," can make it increasingly difficult to take care of a loved one who has cancer.

Over time, a feeling of exhaustion and burnout, known as “caregiver fatigue,” can make it increasingly difficult to take care of a loved one who has cancer. But there are strategies caregivers can use to stay physically and emotionally fresh. Here are some ideas recommended by a variety of experts:

  • Maintain your body. Take time to eat, sleep and exercise, and don’t neglect your own medical appointments.
  • Spend time with friends. A one-hour lunch, once a week, can significantly boost your mental energy.
  • Don’t try to do it all. There are lots of people out there to whom you can delegate. Ask yourself with every task, “Could someone else be doing this?”
  • Let the professionals handle it. Consider a part-time home health aide. Don’t repair or clean anything yourself if a business can do it for you. Explain your circumstances and ask for a discount.
  • Take breaks. Take short walks outside several times a day. Fresh air and a few minutes of separation are vital to renewing yourself. Ask friends to visit your patient while you step out.
  • Seek support from others. At first you may be uncomfortable going to a support group, but after listening, you’ll find yourself losing that sense of isolation. Talk to a friend who’s gone through a similar experience when you start to feel worn out. Consider meeting with a professional counselor. If you feel deeply depressed, it’s essential to you and your patient that you seek help.
  • Identify a communication point person. In communicating health status and other updates, it may help to have one individual be the go-to person (this can change over time), especially during an acute episode or hospitalization.
  • When waiting, use the time. While waiting for your patient’s doctor’s appointment or for a medical test to be completed, think about other things. Read a novel, listen to music or check out what your favorite sports team is doing.
  • Organize, organize, organize. You don’t have control over your loved one’s cancer. But appointments, paperwork, planning and maintaining the rest of your life are within your ability to manage. The more smoothly that goes, the less fatigue and stress you’ll have.
  • Set reasonable expectations. You won’t have time for some things you’d normally do. Decide what has to be done, and either set the other things aside for a while, or find someone else to do them. No one expects you to do everything. You are your strongest critic, but you need to be your own advocate.
  • Think positive thoughts. You may feel overwhelmed, but remind yourself that you are making a huge difference to the person you love. Positive thoughts can help you manage your way through the days.
  • Use technology to make time. Instead of “pushing” information out to everyone via individual communications, set up a blog site so that people can “pull” information on their time, rather than yours.