6 Self-Care Tips for Caregivers of Cancer Patients

April 30, 2021
6 Self-Care Tips for Caregivers of Cancer Patients

Written by Magda Cychowski

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy by Torie Croog 

The phrase “self care” is all over social media, but it has started to lose its meaning—perhaps because putting it into practice is not as easy as it seems. Our health can easily fall on the back burner when we’re caring for a loved one whose needs may feel more urgent, or when we’re made to feel like we must be productive 24/7.

It might even feel selfish to take care of ourselves when a loved one is suffering or in pain, but in reality, it’s crucial in order to show up and be fully present. Self care isn’t selfish, but it can be hard to implement when you’re used to putting others’ needs before your own. Here are five tips for caregivers on how to care for yourself, too.

1. Move

Instead of working out purely for calorie burn, get moving for mental health and for the sake of caring for yourself. Exercise can boost your mental health and help ease stress, so fit in some kind of movement every day that you look forward to, whether it’s dancing around your living room or going on a hike. For self-care bonus points, try calming activities that focus on relaxing the mind and slowing the breath, like restorative yoga, walking, or plyometrics. 

Many exercise platforms are offering extended free trials due to stay-at-home orders, with varying options based on what you most enjoy. For example, The Class is a New York based combination of meditation/exercise that can help you destress without overstressing your body. Even if you don’t have much time on your hands, Peloton features power-walking workouts and restorative movement, including sessions as short as ten minutes.

2. Meditate

Taking a moment to focus on your breathing and center yourself will re-energize you, allowing you to bring your best self to everything you do, whether it’s taking a loved one to doctor’s appointments, dealing with grief, or setting the tone for your day. 

Although the ideal amount of time to meditate is 20 minutes a day, any amount of stillness and breathing can shift your mood. To begin experiencing a mental shift, start small and add a minute every few days. And if sitting still isn’t your thing? Try one of these ways to meditate that involve movement, instead. 

3. Rest

Think of yourself like a phone battery. If you only let yourself recharge for small spurts at a time, your battery will always stay low. In order to get all the way to full charge, you must regularly turn the phone off and give it some time plugged in. 

Getting six hours of sleep and taking Instagram breaks does not count as restoration. Aim to get eight hours a night. Give yourself permission to do less. Not everything has to be done immediately—you’re only human, after all.

4. Practice your hobby (or find a new one!)

Self care is about finding balance. Make sure you have a passion outside of work and caregiving by carving in a little time in your day to pursue something that feels fun and engaging to you. It could be something you love so much you want to turn it into a side-hustle, like jewelry-making or photography, or it could be something you simply enjoy doing for the fun of it, like painting or cooking.

5. Read a book that makes you better

The point of self-care is to invest time, energy, and money into yourself. Instead of spending all of your downtime bingeing another Netflix series (although no judgment there!), take some time before bed or first thing in the morning to read a book that betters you. Whether it’s a self-help book, a career advice memoir, or inspirational essays, choose to consume material that makes you happier, smarter, or healthier. 

Plus, there’s inevitably lots of downtime in the waiting room between radiation and chemo appointments. You can even read the same book as your loved one to give you something new and positive to chat about, completely unrelated to diagnosis or treatment.

6. Find support through local caregiver support groups

While it can be difficult to keep social appointments with friends and family in the face of caretaking, it is important to maintain social connections to feel less isolated and prevent burnout. Stay in contact with loved ones who make you happy.

It may also help to talk to people who understand what you’re going through. Realizing that you’re not alone and that others are going through similar experiences nurtures your ability to be self-compassionate. Hospitals and local organizations often offer caregiver support groups for family and caregivers, while Psychology Today is a great resource for support groups in your area that are covered by insurance.

Caregivers are so busy caring for others that they tend to put their own needs last. The stress of caregiving can affect your health, leading to anxiety, depression, and even poor physical health. It’s important to put your mask on before helping others so that you can be present, supportive, and helpful throughout your loved one’s care and treatment.

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