Caring for someone with a life-threatening or chronic disease can become a full-time job in itself. Whilst often rewarding, being the primary caregiver can mean that you neglect yourself, which may have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing. Being a carer may also affect other relationships, finances and careers.
It is normal to feel overwhelmed at times or as though you’re on a rollercoaster. Whilst the person you’re caring for needs special attention, it is just as necessary that you look after your own needs too. Feeling more fulfilled and rested can not only improve your mental and physical health, but it can also enable you to continue providing better quality of care over a longer period of time.
Whilst being a carer for a loved one can be an incredibly rewarding role, it is complicated.
Some of the normal feeling's caregivers can experience include:
- Fear and worry
- Uncertainty about the future
- Anger or resentment about having extra responsibilities
- Frustration with the burden of responsibility becoming the navigator
- Stress at trying to juggle all the demands
- Powerlessness in the person’s cancer progression
- It can also be a lonely place to be – it’s so easy to feel isolated when you’re a carer
It is important to be aware of the physical symptoms of stress which include poor sleep, tense muscles, heart palpitations, nausea or stomach discomfort, headaches, high blood pressure, appetite changes and weight loss/gain, and fatigue.
If you start feeling frequently sad or empty for no obvious reason, lose interest and pleasure in previously-enjoyable activities, gain or lose weight, feel tired all the time, have trouble concentrating or sleeping, feel restless, agitated, worthless or guilty, start relying on alcohol and/or sedatives to cope, or feel that life isn’t worth living, it’s very important to speak with your doctor.
Your GP will discuss best management and a mental health plan. This will give you access to funded sessions with a professional psychologist. Many people find reassuring to be able to share your thoughts and feelings with someone who is not otherwise involved in your situation at home.
Ways to manage physically
Try to maximise sleep and rest
Sleep deprivation and tiredness are responsible for mistakes, poor focus, flat mood, low energy, and the list goes on. Everything seems harder when you’re tired. If it’s too difficult to get a full night’s sleep, or your caring duties don’t allow, try to get a rest during the day.
Eat nutritious food
Hospital food doesn’t offer a lot of variety, so maybe one of your network’s helpful tasks could be fresh vegetable sticks and fruit to take into hospital with you every day. Once again, if someone asks how they can help – tell them, “A home cooked meal would be wonderful!”
Aim for 15-30 minutes of exercise every day
Not only does it give you a feeling of wellbeing, it can improve mental health, efficiency, improve your sleep, and give you more energy long-term. Exercise may be the last thing you feel like undertaking, but a stroll around the block has been shown to have great benefits.
Chat to a professional
Ensure regular reviews with your GP and/or psychologist
Stop and breathe
Some people find benefit in listening to recorded meditations or relaxations.
When someone has been diagnosed with cancer, relationships can change. Cancer can put pressure on a relationship, which, in turn, can either bring people closer and strengthen the bond, or may place further tension on an already-strained relationship. It’s complicated.
Some changes you might expect:
- Role reversal (Eg. Becoming a carer for a parent),
- Loss of independence for either party
- Intimacy in the relationship
- Reevaluation of priorities and goals
How you might manage:
- Open and honest discussions about each other’s needs. The help of a counsellor is beneficial to many people at this time
- Organise extra home help. Read more on that here (link to Talking to Family)
- Allow some time out for things you enjoy either alone or with friends or family
Many people discover that their sexuality and desire for intimacy is affected negatively by the cancer symptoms, the treatment, and its side effects. For example, tiredness, pain, emotional strain and medications can lower interest in sex (libido), there might be increased self-consciousness due to changed body image after treatment, there might be increased anxiety of fragility and physical pain during sex, and some intimacy may feel lost due to the nature of the changed relationship.
However there are ways to manage these difficulties:
Time spent in each other’s company, enjoying some pastimes or talking together can improve feelings of intimacy and well being. Some people do experience a deeper connection in their relationship. Although physically things might change, lying or sitting with one another, talking or holding hands can create a sense of closeness. Specialised counsellors can also help couples with intimacy and sexual issues, and allied health workers or social workers can give you suggestions for counsellors in your area.
Want to chat?
We have a friendly team available to chat about any questions you may have, or just to lend an ear if you’re having a tough time.
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