The Challenges of Caregiving
When a loved one is diagnosed with a debilitating or terminal illness, it can be gut-wrenching and stressful. However, coping with the emotional and psychological impact of such devastating news is only a piece of the experience. The challenges associated with a loved one’s diagnosis grow in intensity when we assume the role of the caregiver. These factors make it essential for caregivers to practice self-care.
As caregivers, we are not only responsible for getting ourselves through this difficult time, but may also have to support our loved ones. For example, we may fully absorb responsibilities that were previously shared, such as cooking, buying groceries, or paying bills. We also may need to provide assistance with personal care. This can include assisting with toileting, showering, eating, moving, managing symptoms, and more (Fletcher et al., 2012).
The considerable shifts in our roles and responsibilities can profoundly affect both our wellbeing and our relationship with the person we’re caring for. In some situations, caregivers and loved ones report reduced intimacy and increased discord (Northouse, Katapodi, Song, Zhang, & Mood, 2010). If you’re in a caregiving role, you might also begin to feel burned-out, trapped, or like you have no one to turn to when you’re feeling low (Fletcher et al., 2012).
It is important to remind ourselves that this drastic shift in roles and responsibilities is an extreme adjustment not only for us, but for those we’re caring for. Loss of independence and increasing reliance on others, especially for things such as activities of daily living, can be very distressing. This switch can markedly impact our loved one’s sense of self-worth.
In sum, the experience of caring for a loved one with a terminal or debilitating diagnosis can be profound. It can also affect the wellbeing of all involved. While caregiving can nurture our feelings of selfless fulfillment, these feelings can become entangled with the grievous emotions we experience about our loved one’s diagnosis.
Self-Care for Caregivers
Here are some steps you can take to ease the stress that comes with caring for a loved one.
Many caregivers find it difficult to prioritize their own needs. However, attending to your wellbeing is not only essential for your health, it will also help sustain you in your role as a caregiver. Keep your dentist appointments, shop for groceries, got to the dry cleaners and have the care services when needed.
- Be Intentional Practicing the art of being present while caring for your loved one can bring about increased feelings of fulfillment and purpose. It can also strengthen the bond between you. You might recite a statement of gratitude daily to remind you of the precious gift you are giving to your loved one. You might also practice being in touch with your feelings and the “here and now” experience of caregiving. When possible, engaging in meaningful activities unrelated to caregiving can also bring a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction to both of you.
- Reach Out Tapping into your support network or connecting with a local organization that offers respite services for caregivers can help ease the emotional and physical toll of caregiving. Allowing yourself to accept help from a trusted friend, family member, or skilled professional is okay! This support can enhance your capacity for being a present and empathic caregiver.
- Take Time For Yourself Setting aside some time to do things you enjoy or bring life meaning is important to maintaining balance. Spending time with friends, working off steam at the gym, or watching a much-loved movie can reinvigorate your spirit, relieve stress and facilitate a sense of peace.
- Create Space For Your Wellness Seeking out support from a mental health professional during this difficult period can help you to sort through the wide array of feelings, thoughts, and concerns you may be experiencing. Scheduling an appointment to independently meet with a therapist or enrolling in a caregiver support group can provide a vital outlet for processing your feelings and thoughts about caregiving, grief, and loss.
The Viva Center offers a wide array of resources for caregivers, and several of our clinicians see clients and loved ones coping with serious illness and its impact. In addition, you can find free mental health resources at The Resilient Brain Project that can benefit you at any time of year.
Fletcher, B. S., Miaskowski, C., Given, B., & Schumacher, K. (2012). The Cancer Family Caregiving Experience: An Updated and Expanded Conceptual Model. European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 16(4), 387-398. doi:10.1016/j.ejon.2011.09.001
Northouse, L. L., Katapodi, M., Song, L., Zhang, L., & Mood, D. W. (2010). Interventions with Family Caregivers of Cancer Patients: Meta- Analysis of Randomized Trials. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 60(5), 317-339. doi:10.3322/caac.20081.