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Stress Reduction Tips for Cancer Caregivers


Updated June 23, 2010

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Stress Reduction Tips for Cancer Caregivers

Caregiver Support is Important

Getty Images / Paula Bronstein
If you are caring for a loved one with cancer, you may be at risk of developing stress and anxiety. This can lead to a host of symptoms, from sleeplessness to poor health. Taking control of the situation by caring for yourself is vital. It will improve your own health and your ability to care for your loved one with patience and kindness.
Difficulty: Hard
Time Required: Variable

Here's How:

  1. Eat Right

    If you're stressed because of demands on your time, it's important to make smart food choices. You may be tempted to raid the vending machine or grab a bag of chips when your stomach rumbles. Unfortunately, these foods can worsen your stress level. These simple carbohydrates can cause levels of insulin and other hormones in your body to fluctuate widely. This can lead to the post-meal crash, crankiness, and a desire to reach for more junk food later.

    Instead, try easy, healthy foods, such as instant plain oatmeal, yogurt, frozen fruit and veggies, an apple and peanut butter, or low-sodium bean soup.

  2. Sleep Right

    For many people, stress can lead to insomnia, or difficulty falling and staying asleep. But getting good sleep is an important part of feeling your best. Sleep also helps the body cope with stress better. Lack of sleep actually can heighten stress. A few simple tips, from darkening your bedroom completely to creating a bedtime ritual to trying patterned breathing, will help you get your Z's.

  3. Exercise

    Even if you've never exercised, a few minutes of movement per day can significantly lower stress levels. In fact, one of the best things you can do is something most of us have been doing for our whole lives: walking. Try a 10-minute walk at lunch and first thing after work. If you're at home, get a breath of fresh air mid-day. Don't let rain stop you either. As long as it's not thundering or lightning, an umbrella is all you need.

    And if you're a regular gym rat, but can't get there now due to time demands, don't fall prey to "all or nothing" thinking. Anything, even a quick walk, is better than nothing.

  4. Take "Me" Time

    You may feel selfish taking time for yourself during a loved one's health crisis, but you shouldn't. If you give and give and give, but never take a minute of "me" time, you'll quickly feel resentful and burnt out on caregiving. Try to set aside just 5 to 10 minutes a day to read a few pages of your favorite magazine or book, call a friend, do some deep breathing, or do whatever it is that helps you feel better and relax.

  5. Accept Help

    It's hard to accept help. This is especially true if you are a "natural caregiver." It may feel like you're failing when you accept help, but it's just the opposite. Getting help will make it more likely that both you and your loved one with cancer will get what you need.

    The best way to get the help you need is to be specific. If someone offers to help, give them a specific task. For example, "If you could come over at 4pm on Tuesday to keep Jane company while I run the kids to ballet and soccer, it would be a huge help." Or, "I'd love some help with the yard work. Can you rake on Saturday at 11am?"

  6. Tap Into Resources

    Many cancer centers have support groups for family caregivers. These groups can be an invaluable source of support and ideas for coping. Ask the nurse if the cancer treatment facility has caregiver, family, or spouse support groups.

    If you can't locate a caregiver support group through your local cancer treatment program, try searching online for the phrase "caregiver support groups" (no quotes) plus the name of your state or city. You can find several options this way. Even an online support group can help you cope and give you a place to talk to people going through situations similar to yours.

  7. Get Professional Help

    If you are caring for someone with incurable cancer or who has other serious medical conditions, you may need a visiting nurse or other in home care. Many people make the mistake of waiting until the "last minute," when a loved one is very sick, before seeking professional help. This makes your life tougher than it needs to be and may lead to more disability and suffering for your loved one.

    Ask a cancer treatment nurse about palliative or hospice care.

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