Taking care of another person can be stressful. Everyone has some stress, but too much can harm your health, relationships, and enjoyment of life. Caregiver stress happens when you don’t have time to do all that’s asked or expected of you. You may feel like no matter what you do it’s not enough, or like everything is on your shoulders. Caregiver burnout happens when you are in a state of stress or distress for a prolonged period of time. Caregiver stress and burnout can affect your mood, and make you feel tense, angry, anxious, depressed, irritable, frustrated, or fearful. It can make you feel out of control, unable to focus, unsatisfied with work, or lonely. Caregiver stress and burnout can also cause physical symptoms like sleep problems, muscle tension (back, shoulder, or neck pain), headaches, stomach problems, weight gain or loss, fatigue, chest pain, heart problems, hair loss, skin problems, or a colds and infections. It can lead you to abuse alcohol or other substances.
Get help from a healthcare provider if you are:
- Ignoring your own health problems or symptoms (including putting off seeing your own doctor)
- Eating poorly
- Overusing tobacco, alcohol or other substances
- Giving up exercise
- Losing contact with friends
- Bottling up feelings of anger and frustration
- Having angry outbursts
- Feeling resentful towards others or unreasonably annoyed by them
- Feeling anxious, depressed, sad or hopeless
- Blaming the person with cancer for the situation
- Feeling tired all the time
- Sleeping poorly
These things can lead to caregiver stress or make it worse:
- Fear & uncertainty: Cancer treatment isn’t certain. It’s hard not to worry about the person with cancer, and the future.
- Shifting roles: Caregiving can change relationships. This isn’t bad. But, it can be upsetting when someone who has been a source of strength is suddenly vulnerable, or when you find yourself making decisions somebody else used to make.
- Too much to do: As a caregiver, you may feel overwhelmed by all you have to do, and as though everything is falling on your shoulders.
- Financial pressure: The costs of cancer care can be a source of stress. Also, you and the patient may be unable to work full-time—or at all.
- Loneliness & isolation: Caregiving takes time. You may find you don’t have time to spend with friends, take part in outside activities, or pursue hobbies.
- Little time alone: Everyone needs time for themselves. This can be difficult to get when you are caring for someone with cancer.
- Constant demands: Being on call around-the-clock can be especially hard.
- Guilt: You may feel bad that you can’t give more, or you may feel that you are short-changing other family members and friends.
While all these things are common among caregivers, there are things your can do to lessen your stress.
Here are some tips for dealing with your caregiver stress or burnout:
- Recognize the warning signs of stress early. Never dismiss your feelings as "just stress."
- Ask for help with caregiving and accept it! Make a list of everyone who may be able to help you out. Make a list of the things that can be done by other people like running errands. Then, ask others to do things for you.
- Talk to someone—a friend, counselor, family member, or clergy member.
- Talk to a professional if your stress is becoming a problem.
- Take care of yourself. Eat well, drink enough water and other fluids, and try to get some exercise every day, even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood. Get regular medical and dental checkup.
- Identify sources of stress, and write them down. Think about the things you can improve. Try prayer and/or meditation to accept the things you can’t change.
- Give yourself permission to grieve, cry and express your feelings.
- Try meditation, yoga, music, or deep breathing to relax.
- Join a support group like My Cancer Circle, which is especially for caregivers of people with cancer.
- Focus on the positive. At the end of the day, make a list of the good things that have happened. Give yourself credit for what you’re doing. Forgive yourself when you don’t do things as well as you want. Remember that you are doing the best that you can.
- Take time for yourself. Ask a friend or family member to stay with the patient or hire someone to give you time off to shop, go to a movie, or visit a friend.
- Learn to say "no" when someone asks you to do something that you don’t want to do, and/or that may be draining (like hosting a holiday meal).
- Educate yourself. Get information from your doctor, the Internet, local library, book stores, or local support groups. This may help with feelings of uncertainty. You’ll find a list of valuable resources here.
- Find someone who can help you understand all of the medical information. This could be a healthcare professional, someone in a support group, or someone who has been through the same thing. Keep a list of questions to discuss with the patient’s healthcare providers.
- Make a list of priorities for each day. Set realistic goals.
- Write about what you’re going through in a journal. This is especially helpful for feelings that you don’t want to share.
- Try to plan for legal and financial matters. Planning now will lessen stress later. Involve other family members in these activities and decisions.
Call your doctor or 911 immediately if you feel like you could hurt yourself or someone else.
Also, talk to your doctor if you are:
- Abusing drugs, alcohol or other substances
- Over- or under-eating
- Experiencing stress, anger, depression, fatigue, or sleep problems lasting two or more weeks
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