A few months ago, I dedicated a post to singing the praises of the sometimes underappreciated caregiver. It’s a tough job, and, at times, it can be thankless. As much as you want to devote all of your time to helping a loved one get through a cancer treatment, a recent study emphasizes the reasons you have to remember to pay attention to your own health along the way.
By using the national Swedish cancer registry and the Swedish inpatient registry, researchers discovered that for people whose partners have cancer, the risk for heart disease and stroke increased by 13 to 29 percent. The study found that in most cases, stress was the key culprit.
Constantly caring for a loved one whose health may or may not be in continual decline can take a toll on anyone. Not only is stress a problem for you as a caregiver, but if you’re spending all your time tending to someone else’s needs, you don’t have the time or energy to take care of your own health needs.
One problem is that many caregivers feel guilty pausing to do anything for themselves. However, if you’re not in tip-top shape, how can you successfully care for your loved one? Remember, your loved one would never want you to completely give up on your own happiness. As a caregiver, it is important to push that guilt aside, and take a few moments for yourself. If nothing else, make sure to take care of any health issues of your own that may arise.
Here are a few tips for caregivers to stay healthy.
1. Talk to a Counselor/Psychologist – Let’s face it, at times you are going to be angry at the cards that you and your loved one were dealt. Even if the illness isn’t happening directly to you, watching a loved one go through treatment is a painful experience. You don’t want to burden that person with your feelings of anger or frustration, because the patient has his/her own feelings to deal with. Schedule time to talk with a counselor on your own, and just let everything out. You’ll feel a lot better after that release.
2. Practice Relaxation Exercises with Your Partner – Both you and your partner need to relax. It seems nearly impossible to relax when going through such a tough time, but it’s going to help both of you through the process. Take a yoga class together, or practice relaxation exercises on your own. A couple’s massage is also a great way to help both of you de-stress, without feeling guilty for taking time for yourself.
3. Spend Time Together Without Discussing Cancer –Carve out some time every day where you don’t even utter the “c” word. Go to a silly movie together, or cook a nutritious meal, light candles and just enjoy each other without worrying about when the next treatment will come.
4. Find a Support Group – Whether you find your own caregiver support group or attend a group with your loved one, talking to others in a similar situation is always helpful.
5. Pay Attention to Your Health – If you don’t feel well, find out what’s wrong! While your loved one’s health may seem more pressing at the time, your own ailment could be a sign of a bigger problem. Go get yourself checked out so that you can stay healthy.
As much as you want to spend all of your time caring for your loved one, don’t forget that you have to live your life as well! Your partner would certainly want this for you, and it is the best way to make sure both of you get to the other side of this difficult time, together.