A cancer diagnosis in a loved one can take a toll on the well-being of the person providing day-to-day assistance, the caregiver. One of the most important – but often forgotten – tasks for caregivers is caring for themselves. Willa Decker, M.S.N., M.A., RN, FNP-BC, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing says that to be a good caregiver, you must be good to yourself.

The following suggestions can help ensure caregivers’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs are met so they can provide the best care possible.

Decker, Willa

Willa Decker, M.S.N., M.A., RN, FNP-BC, assistant professor of nursing

Take the time to maintain your own healthy habits, including exercise, a healthy diet and regular medical checkups. If your schedule doesn’t allow for an hour of exercise, that’s fine, walk a few laps around the block.  Although it won’t be possible every day in your new role as a caregiver, Decker notes, try to get a full night’s sleep as often as possible. Most importantly, make time for your own health.

Recognize and check your thoughts. “We can’t control how many thoughts we have, but luckily we have full control over how long we dwell on our thoughts,” Decker says. Try to stay positive, especially during the hardest times. A positive perspective is crucial.

Find a good support system. Friends will become instrumental in helping us step away and look at the big picture. It is important for care providers to schedule time for themselves on a calendar and a support system can provide a friendly reminder to do so. It’s not easy to step away, but it’s necessary. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have.

Research shows we have basic spiritual needs that need to be met. One is to love and be loved. Decker suggests getting together with people that share similar beliefs, listening to uplifting music and taking time for personal reflection.

Remember that it’s ok to have a sense of humor during this process. Do things that are fun to you – watch old movies, read comics, whatever might make you smile. Research shows laughter releases endorphins and even a small chuckle releases these endorphins.

“The magic isn’t in the tips,” Decker says, “the magic is in implementing them.”

“If caregivers are in it for the long haul, then they must take care of the short haul and the things that need to be done to care for themselves on a daily basis,” Decker says.

— Holly Shive

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