Taking care of yourself

Caregiving can be a very intense and tiring job. While you’re caregiving – along with everything else you have to do every day – you may forget to take care of yourself. But it’s very important to make sure that you take time for yourself. Caregivers who take care of their own needs and get the information, help and support they need are better able to take care of their loved one with cancer.

Stay healthy

To have the strength and energy to care for someone else, you need to be healthy yourself. Some things that you can do to stay healthy are:

Eat well. Make sure that you eat a healthy, balanced diet that has a variety of foods each day to get the nutrients you need for good health.

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, improve your sleep and control your weight – and it just generally makes you feel better.

Get enough rest. When you are well-rested, it’s easier to cope with the demands of caregiving. Try to get a complete night’s rest when you can. If you need to, try to nap when the person you are taking care of is resting or sleeping.

Don’t ignore your own health. Make sure you go for regular checkups with your doctor and dentist, and report any concerns you have about your health.

Find ways to cope with stress. There are many different ways to cope with stress. If you’re feeling stressed, keep trying until you find the ones that work for you. Because everyone feels and handles stress differently, everyone will also have their own way of managing it. Talk to your healthcare team if you’re having trouble handling stress on your own. They may suggest taking a class that teaches different ways to manage stress or refer you to a self-help group, support program or counsellor.

Ask for help, and accept help from others

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 needed. People are often happy to babysit, clean the house, help out with meals or stay with the person who is ill.

Talk to the healthcare team about home care or other community services to help with house or yard work or with physical care.

Share your feelings

It’s normal to feel stressed, angry, afraid, helpless, frustrated, sad or guilty. It’s also normal to feel you must ignore your own feelings in order to stay strong for the person with cancer. Even though it can be hard, it’s a good idea to talk about your feelings instead of keeping them inside. Hiding your feelings can use up energy that you need to deal with caregiving.

Talk to someone, like a trusted friend, a family member, a counsellor or a clergy member. A caregivers’ support group is a good place to talk to others who have been or are going through the same experience.

Take a break

You may feel guilty about taking time away from caregiving, but 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 and leave a contact number so you can be reached.

If you can’t get out, you can still pamper yourself in little ways at home. Take a break with a favourite magazine or TV show, a hot bath or an early night with a good book.

If the person with cancer needs a lot of physical caregiving, talk to the healthcare team about respite care. Respite care can give you short-term relief from your caregiving responsibilities, while making sure that your loved one is still getting care. Respite care can be given at home, an adult day care centre or a healthcare facility. You may ask for a regular afternoon or day of care or have it arranged for a longer period of time if you need it. Your healthcare team will be able to arrange care and explain any costs involved.

Expert review and references

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on cancer.ca, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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