Elissa Kolva, PhD, clinical psychiatrist and CU Cancer Center member, shares tips around self-care for a caregiver of a loved one with cancer.
Given these high levels of distress and increased demands placed on caregivers, we know that self-care becomes particularly important. However, and I hear this from caregivers all the time, it can be frustrating to hear that on top of all the care they are doing, that they also need to take care of themselves.
I wanted to talk a little bit about a few things that might help and might be easier integrated into your routines to take care of yourself. We often use the metaphor of the oxygen mask when discussing self-care for caregivers. We want you to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others.
One thing that can be helpful for caregivers is to take mini-breaks. This can take anything from a few seconds to a few minutes. But taking that time for yourself can be very important. Now that might involve stepping outside for a minute to take 10 deep breaths or noticing the weather. It might involve driving an extra lap around the block before pulling into your driveway or taking the long way home or turning up the volume a little louder when a song you like comes on.
Ask for help
We want to encourage you to ask for help. This is a very hard thing for caregivers to do. You have probably had friends or family members say to you “let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” It is hard in the moment to come up with something. We want to ask our caregivers to take some time and coming up with a list of things that others can do can that might be helpful. Now we want to be mindful during this pandemic, but you can identify things that don't require close contact. Examples could be to ask a neighbor to mow your lawn after they are done with theirs or asking a friend to pick up a few things at the grocery store and drop them off on the porch or picking up a prescription so you don't have to. That way you can spend time doing things that only you can provide to your loved one.
Re-connect with others
We also want to encourage you to find ways to re-connect with other important roles, those roles that tend to be neglected during caregiving. Find time to be a partner, child or parent. Do some of the things that you enjoyed before your loved one's diagnosis – watching a movie or taking a walk around the block.
For more supportive information for caregivers visit the CU Cancer Center Caregiver section of the website.