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Self-Care for Caregivers

Woman relaxing with tea

In our previous blog post about self-care, we defined the term and discussed the ways that people with cancer can nurture and refresh themselves. But self-care isn’t just for those with cancer. If anything, helpers and caregivers need self-care even more urgently, so that we can be present and well for our loved ones.

So why is it so difficult for helpers to take care of ourselves? Research indicates that it might be because we set our sights too high or avoid the topic entirely. We also have a tendency to focus on the person with the diagnosis and prioritize their needs over our own. But there are good reasons to start turning our attention to ourselves.

Self-Care Makes Us Better Caregivers

A self-care practice lessens compassion fatigue, which can keep us from feeling empathy for those we care for. It also increases compassion satisfaction, which is a sense of pleasure and fulfillment from contributing to the well-being of others. Self-care does not reflect an inadequacy or area for improvement—a good self-care plan reflects the strength and resilience of the caregiver.

When creating your own self-care plan, remember that one size does not fit all. In fact, the more your self-care ideas answer the question, “How do I reassure and nourish yourself?” the better it will work for you. Having trouble remembering what makes you feel good? Ask a friend or loved one, refer to your journals or reminisce about a happy time in your life: What made you feel your best at that time?

Tip: Try to come up with concrete actions. Instead of just saying you'll take better care of yourself, plan to get a full eight hours of sleep every night.

Self-care should be guided by what makes us feel like our best selves, not what we wish, hope or even perhaps "should" be doing (for example, it's okay to make time for your favorite TV show!). If your self-care ideas read like a list of New Year's resolutions, you might want to be easier on yourself. Self-care works best when combined with self-compassion, which in turn has been found to improve psychological functioning. It’s what we call a win/win.

Exercise: Diversity Your Self-Care Plan

Self-care doesn't have to be physically focused. It's important to care for our minds, spirits, relationships and work in addition to our bodies. For each category below, think of a way that you can better care for yourself. We've included some helpful examples:

Mind: (read a good book, take a class, do a puzzle)

Spirit: (attend a religious service of your choice, listen to or play music, create a gratitude list)

Emotions: (see a counselor or therapist, write a love letter to yourself, ask for help, take a time out)

Relationships: (spend quality time with a friend or loved one, practice setting healthy boundaries, start to heal old wounds)

Work: (make time throughout the day for self-care breaks, create a healthy workspace, set and maintain professional boundaries)

Support Is Also Self-Care

Self-care doesn't have to happen alone. Caring for a sick loved one can make your life much more difficult than usual, and it's okay to ask for support from a therapist, a group or other social outlet. We host a Caring for the Caregiver support group right at Pennsylvania Hospital. If this seems helpful, see a staff member for details.

More Self-Care Resources for Caregivers

The Abramson Cancer Center staff is here to support you and your loved ones in developing excellent self-care. Reach out to your oncology social worker or chaplain if you’re stuck or if you want to share some successes.

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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