Topic updated: February 2013

Caregiving

You may not think of yourself as a caregiver. You may feel you are doing something natural. You are just caring for someone you love. Some caregivers are family members. Others are friends.

What does "giving care" mean?

Giving care can mean helping with daily needs. These include going to doctor visits, making meals, and picking up medicines. It can also mean helping your loved one cope with feelings. Like when he or she feels sad or angry. Sometimes having someone to talk to is what your loved one needs most.

While giving care, it's normal to put your own needs and feelings aside. But putting your needs aside for a long time is not good for your health. You need to take care of yourself, too. If you don't, you may not be able to care for others. This is why you need to take good care of you.

Your Feelings

It's common to feel stressed and overwhelmed at this time. Like your loved one, you may feel angry, sad, or worried. Try to share your feelings with others who can help you. It can help to talk about how you feel. You could even talk to a counselor or social worker.

Understanding your feelings

You probably have many feelings as you take care of your loved one. There is no right way for you to feel. Each person is different.

The first step to understanding your feelings is to know that they're normal. Give yourself some time to think through them. Some feelings that may come and go are:

  • Sadness. It's okay to feel sad. But if it lasts for more than 2 weeks, and it keeps you from doing what you need to do, you may be depressed.
  • Anger. You may be angry at yourself or family members. You may be angry at the person you're caring for. Or you may be angry that your loved one has cancer. Sometimes anger comes from fear, panic, or stress. If you are angry, try to think of what makes you feel this way. Knowing the cause may help.
  • Grief. You may be feeling a loss of what you value most. This may be your loved one's health. Or it may be the loss of the day-to-day life you had before the cancer was found. Let yourself grieve these losses.
  • Guilt. Feeling guilty is common, too. You may think you aren't helping enough. Or you may feel guilty that you are healthy.
  • Loneliness. You can feel lonely, even with lots of people around you. You may feel that no one understands your problems. You may also be spending less time with others.

What may help

Talk with someone if your feelings get in the way of daily life. Maybe you have a family member, friend, priest, pastor, or spiritual leader to talk to. Your doctor may also be able to help.

Here are some other things that may help you:

  • Know that we all make mistakes whenever we have a lot on our minds. No one is perfect.
  • Cry or express your feelings. You don't have to pretend to be cheerful. It's okay to show that you are sad or upset.
  • Focus on things that are worth your time and energy. Let small things go for now. For example, don't fold clothes if you are tired.
  • Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can.
  • Spend time alone to think about your feelings.

Asking for Help

Many people who were once caregivers say they did too much on their own. Some wished that they had asked for help sooner. Be honest about what you can do. Think about tasks you can give to others. And let go of tasks that aren't so important at this time.

Asking for help also helps your loved one.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. Remember, if you get help for yourself:

  • You may stay healthier and have more energy.
  • Your loved one may feel less guilty about your help.
  • Other helpers may offer time and skills that you don't have.

How can others help you?

People may want to help you but don't know what you need. Here are some things you can ask them to do:

  • Help with tasks such as:
    • Cooking
    • Cleaning
    • Shopping
    • Yard Work
    • Childcare
    • Eldercare
  • Talk with you and share your feelings.
  • Help with driving errands such as:
    • Doctor visits
    • Picking up your child
  • Find information you need.
  • Tell others how your loved one is doing.

Know that some people may say, "No."

Some people may not be able to help. There could be one or more reasons such as:

  • They may be coping with their own problems.
  • They may not have time right now.
  • They may not know how to help.
  • They may feel uneasy around people who are sick.

Caring for Yourself

Making time for yourself

Taking time for yourself can help you be a better caregiver. That's even more true if you have health problems.

You may want to:

  • Find nice things you can do for yourself. Even just a few minutes can help. You could watch TV, call a friend, work on a hobby, or do anything that you enjoy.
  • Be active. Even light exercise such as walking, stretching, or dancing can make you less tired. Yard work, playing with kids or pets, or working in the garden are helpful, too.
  • Find ways to connect with friends. Are there places you can meet others who are close to you? Or can you chat or get support by phone or email?
  • Give yourself more time off. Ask friends or family members to pitch in. Take time to rest.

Do something for yourself each day. It doesn't matter how small it is. Whatever you do, don't neglect yourself.

Read more from this booklet (designed for those caring for someone with cancer), from the National Cancer Institute.

young hands holding hands of an elderly person

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