Carers: caring for yourself

Caring can be rewarding, but many carers also find it demanding, both physically and emotionally.

If you have been caring for someone for some time, you may feel exhausted. You might feel guilty making time for yourself. However, looking after yourself can help relieve the stress and exhaustion of caring, and reduce feelings of frustration and isolation.

Make time for yourself

Some carers have said they felt like they lost their identity when caring. You may feel like your career, interests and health are no longer important or have to take second priority.

Tips
  • Take some time every day, even if it’s just 10 minutes, to do something for yourself. You don’t have to leave the house. For instance, you can take a nap, catch up on personal phone calls, emails and letters, do some gardening, read or simply relax.
  • Plan in advance when you will take time for yourself, so you can fit it in with your caring responsibilities.
  • Try to stay involved in activities you enjoy. It will give you something else to think and talk about outside of caring.
  • Let friends or family know that you want to chat about things other than caring.
  • Ask family and friends to help you so you can have regular breaks or arrange respite care.

Care for your body

Carers can often forget to look after their own well-being. When they do notice that they’re not feeling well, they tend to downplay their own health needs. You can acknowledge that you are not feeling well without comparing it with how the person with cancer is feeling.

Tips

Eat healthy meals and snacks. If the person you care for has long appointments   or is in hospital, you may need to bring healthy food from home.

  • Try to get enough rest. Tiredness often adds to the stress of caring and may make you feel irritable. Taking a warm bath or listening to relaxing music before bed may help you relax.
  • Continue having checkups with your own doctor.
  • Avoid using alcohol or cigarettes to deal with stress. These may make you feel better for a short time, but they contribute to other problems.
  • Exercise for 15-30 minutes each day. This will make you feel more energetic, help you sleep better and improve your mood. If you can leave the house, a walk, run or swim may help. An exercise bike or a yoga/meditation mat will mean you can exercise at home.
  • See a doctor if you notice changes in your health such as fatigue, sleep problems, weight changes and depression.
  • If you are lifting, moving or physically supporting   the patient, don’t go beyond your capabilities and hurt yourself. Physiotherapy and occupational   therapy teams can give you advice about the correct techniques. It is important to stay as fit and well as possible so you don’t end up with an injury.

Deal with uncertainty

When the person you care for is having treatment, life may seem less predictable. You may have to put some plans on hold because you are not sure what is ahead. Carers often find this uncertainty stressful. You may find it easier to cope if you focus on things you can control.

You may be able to schedule doctors’ visits so you can attend with the person you’re caring for. It may also help to learn more about cancer and possible treatment options, so you feel like you have more knowledge about what is happening.

Talk with family and friends

Talking about how you feel about caring, particularly if you are feeling angry (venting) may help you deal with these emotions.

You may feel uncomfortable talking to the person with cancer because you think they have a lot to deal with already and you are meant to be their support. It’s understandable if you don’t want to talk to the person with cancer, but try not to hold in all your feelings. You can share your feelings with friends or family members, or join a support group for carers

Organise your time

It may not be possible to do everything you want to do. You will need to manage your time.

Tips
  • Prioritise your weekly tasks and activities.
  • Use a personal planner/diary to keep track of information and appointments.
  • Ask for help from family, friends or support services. For instance, someone might be able to make dinner or drive the person with cancer to treatment. Asking for help is not a sign of failure and it may relieve some pressure.
  • Concentrate on one task at a time, e.g. making dinner.
  • Avoid multiple shopping trips, e.g. do one large shop rather than going daily.

Focus on the value of caring

Looking after someone with cancer is not always easy or satisfying. Many carers say they feel overburdened and resentful. However, many carers say focusing on the value they were adding through caring helped them to cope and made them feel better.

Some of the rewards of caring include:

  • learning new skills
  • strengthening your relationship as you demonstrate your love and commitment
  • satisfaction from helping someone in need.
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