Self-care for the caregiver

If you’re caring for a family member with a life-threatening illness such as cancer, you know the demands can be emotionally and physically overwhelming. Taking time to care for yourself is critical.

The effects of caregiving on your health

Going to your loved one’s doctor appointments, managing medications, running errands, and helping with bathing, dressing and eating may be just some of your many responsibilities. You may also have a job and look after other family members.

Because of your overall workload, you may have little time to attend to your own physical well-being, which can lead to:

  • Fatigue
  • Reduced sleep
  • Poor eating habits
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Not scheduling your own medical appointments
  • Not resting when you’re ill

Taking care of an ill family member can also take an emotional toll and lead to:

  • Feelings of abandonment
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy

How you can take care of yourself

You can several steps to ensure your needs are met, while taking care of your loved one:

  • Enlist the help of other family members and friends. Give them a specific list of tasks to complete such as food shopping, picking up children from school or doing the laundry.
  • Keep up your fitness routine to help manage stress and guard against depression. If your regular regimen is too much, try going for short walks.
  • Go for your annual check-up and health screenings. Talk to your doctor about your caregiving responsibilities and the impact on your well-being.
  • Engage in enjoyable activities such as seeing friends, reading a book or watching your favorite TV show.
  • Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and guided meditation.
  • Keep an open line of communication with your loved one. Talking about your changing roles and responsibilities and sharing your feelings about the illness can be a positive experience.
  • Recognize that stress and other negative emotions are normal. Talk to a counselor or join a support group to help you cope. UCLA Health offers a variety of support groups for patients, families and their caregivers.

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