How to avoid caregiver burnout

A caregiver is someone who provides physical and emotional care to someone with cancer, but they aren’t paid to do this work. Caregivers are usually the partner or spouse, parent, adult child or close friend of the person with cancer.

Caregiving can be an intense and tiring job. Being kind to yourself and having strategies that make the most of your time and energy is an essential part of caregiving.

Here are 7 tips to help you avoid caregiver burnout.

An older person talking to a younger person in a park.

1. Eat well

It may not be easy but eating healthy, balanced meals will help you maintain your energy levels throughout the day. Try to eat a variety of vegetables and fruit, whole grain foods and foods that are high in protein like meats, eggs and legumes.

If you can, take some time to plan out your meals each week. You may want to try some new recipes like a butternut squash soup or a rhubarb nut bread, which can be made and stored to eat later.

2. Be active

You may feel exhausted, but a little bit of movement can go a long way to help you feel better. Go for a walk, swim or bike ride. Being active can help you cope with stress and improve your sleep – and it just generally makes you feel better.

3. Get enough rest

Be sure to get enough sleep to manage the daily demands of caregiving. Try to start going to bed and waking up at the same times every day. If you need to nap, try limiting naps to no more than 30 minutes so that your nightly sleep schedule isn’t affected.

Having a before-bed routine can also help you wind down. Relax with a warm bath and soft music. Try to avoid caffeine in the evening. Keep your bedroom cool and quiet, and put your electronic devices away at least one hour before bedtime.

A person talking and laughing with a person in a wheel chair.

4. Find ways to manage stress

Coping with anxiety or stress is different for everyone. Try different things until you find ways to cope with stress that work best for you. Spending time in nature, going to the gym, playing music or writing in a journal might help.

Meditation can also be a great way to relax. It helps you focus on a single thing, like your breathing. You can meditate while sitting, lying down or walking. Mindfulness meditation brings your awareness to each moment without judgement. You can learn using the recordings we’ve prepared.

5. Share your feeling

Caregiving can bring up a lot of emotions. You may feel angry, afraid, helpless, frustrated or sad. It’s normal to want to ignore these difficult feelings and to stay strong for the person you’re caring for. But ignoring your feelings can use up a lot of your energy.

Talk to a friend, family member, counsellor or a member of your faith community. You can also find people with caregiving experience in our online community, This is a safe space where you can connect, learn and share your stories with people with similar experiences with cancer.

6. Ask for help

You can’t do everything. Be honest with yourself about what you can do. Decide what’s most important to you and don’t worry about the other stuff.

Get help from family members, friends or people in the community when you need it. People are often happy to babysit, clean the house, look after pets, help with meals or stay with the person who is ill. Don’t hesitate to tell others exactly what sort of help you will need.

7. Take a break

Taking time to rest and recharge is a key part of taking care of yourself. Go for a walk, have a massage, see a movie or meet up with a friend – whatever activities you enjoy doing. If you’re worried about leaving your loved one alone, ask someone you trust to come by while you’re away.

If you can’t get out, take a break with your favourite TV show, a warm bath or an early night in bed with a good book.