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What is caregiver anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness, discomfort, or impending doom. It is common for people taking care of someone with cancer to experience anxiety. It can be caused by a loss of control, fear for the patient’s well-being, worry over family finances, uncertainty about the future, and feelings of being overwhelmed.

Caregivers with anxiety can have physical and emotional symptoms. Emotionally, you may feel tense, worried, wary, agitated, or distracted. Physically, you may tremble, sweat, or shake. You may be short of breath, have a rapid heart rate, or feel like your heart is pounding in your chest. You may have an upset stomach, headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, or difficulty sleeping.

What can I do about my anxiety?

Here are some tips you may find helpful:

  • Accept help with caregiving.
  • Try to identify what "triggers" your anxiety.
  • List things that have helped in the past, and then try them out.
  • Talk about your feelings with others. Be honest. Try to describe how you're truly feeling. Ask your family and friends for ideas on managing your anxiety.
  • Join a support group or online forum for caregivers.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Learn about the patient’s type of cancer, treatment, and what to expect. You can research this yourself or ask someone to do it for you.
  • Do things you enjoy or find distracting, like listening to music.
  • Try using controlled breathing or guided imagery to relax. Consider asking a friend to help with this.
  • Surround yourself with friends if that relaxes you.
  • Seek social support.
  • Try prayer or meditation.
  • Get exercise. For example, go for a walk with a friend.
  • Spend time outdoors.
  • Get a massage.
  • Eat well.
  • Limit caffeine, including coffee, colas, black teas, and chocolate.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Take care of your own health.
  • Ask your doctor for a counseling referral, or talk to him or her about medications for anxiety.
  • Take a break from caregiving – get respite.
  • Make positive statements, and increase positive thoughts.

When should I talk to my doctor about my anxiety?

Talk to your doctor if you have:

  • Constant fearfulness, worry, or impending doom.
  • Depression that lasts longer than two weeks.
  • Trouble eating – gaining or losing weight.
  • Shortness of breath that keeps coming back.
  • Sleep problems – too much sleep or not enough sleep.
  • Heart racing or beating hard in the chest.
  • Frequent headaches or bodily pain.
  • Constant irritability.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse.


  • Cao, Q., Gong, J., Chen, M., Lin, Y., Li, Q. (2022) The dyadic effects of self-efficacy on quality of life in advanced cancer patient and family caregiver dyads: The mediating role of benefit finding, anxiety, and depression. Hindawi Journal of Oncology, 2, 3073358.
  • Deshields, T.L., Asvat, Y., Tippey, A.R., Vanderlan, J.R. (2022). Distress, depression, anxiety, and resilience in patients with cancer and caregivers. Health Psychology, 41(4), 246-255.
  • Kusi, G., Atenafu, E.G., Mensah, A.B.B., Lee, C.T., Viswabandya, A., Puts, M., Mayo, S. (2023). The effectiveness of psychoeducational interventions on caregiver-oriented outcomes in caregivers of adult cancer patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychooncology, 32(2), 189-202.
  • Forst, D.A., Kaslow-Zieve, E.R., Hansen, A., Mesa, M. Landay, S.L., Quain, K.M., Sereno, I., El-Jawahri, A., J Greer, J.A., Temel, J.S., Jacobs, J.M. (2023). Characterizing distress and identifying modifiable intervention targets for family caregivers of patients with malignant gliomas. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 26(1), 17-27.