Caregiver Support: Emotional Wellbeing

October 5, 2020 Callie Bartlett (Health Education Intern), Tyne Tennyson-Ray (Oncology Social Worker), Sylvia Farias (Oncology Social Worker)

Being a caregiver for a cancer patient includes a host of responsibilities and psychological stressors, ones that can lead to intense feelings of anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Caregivers also report that feelings of helplessness and guilt are very common. Sometimes, even the best and ‘right’ advice can be incredibly difficult to implement in your own life, as there a million and one other things to get through on your mind. While you are trying to be the perfect caregiver for your loved one, keep in mind these important points.


Changing Unhelpful Thought Patterns

  • Start managing your ‘I should’s’. The pressure of not being able to do enough for your loved one, not doing it right, or something bad happening on your watch is exhausting. Some of the pressures can be the need to control the outcome or health of your loved one. For example, providers often tell caregivers to make sure that the patient eats. However, this is not your sole responsibility as you do not have control over making anyone eat. While you can’t control this, you can control making sure that there is food in the house, cooking meals, etc.


  • Don’t try to control what is outside of your ability, because it can be unrealistic and will make you feel powerless. Learning to accept and let go of things that are outside of your control does NOT mean you don’t care and aren’t trying your best. Instead, knowing what you can control can provide more balance to your life and help you to move forward.


  • Embrace your healthy thoughts. While this is understandably hard to do during such a difficult time, it is important to avoid overgeneralizing such as ‘Everything is horrible’. Yes, there is absolutely a lot that is stressful to manage but there are also moments of joy and pleasure. When you find yourself overgeneralizing, take a step back and reframe your thoughts by writing down what you are thinking. While you don’t want to discount the negative feelings you are experiencing, don’t ignore the moments in your week that have gone well or given you more peace.


Communicating with other friends and family

  • Giving updates to the many loved ones in your life can be exhausting and emotionally demanding. Consider posting updates on an online platform and referring people to this site, such as Caring Bridge, so others are able to resort there instead of always asking you to stay informed on the health of your loved one. You can also assign the task of giving updates to a friend or family member.


  • When going out with friends or family members, tell them that the time will be a “cancer-free zone” and that there will be no cancer talk. If you need the mental space, advise them that it’s okay to talk about trivial things. You deserve a mental break and a distraction from all else in your life.


  • Hearing that “It’s going to be OK,” is not always the advice that is needed. If you need to vent or have a good cry to a friend, tell them that you just want to be listened to, they don’t have to try to ‘fix’ anything or give advice. At times, simply being heard by someone is what you need to clear your mind.


  • The number of tasks and errands to do can be overwhelming. When others ask if there is anything they can do to help, don’t be scared to reach out. Provide a list of things that need to be done, such as mowing the lawn, picking up groceries, driving your loved one to an appointment, etc. These may be small tasks but can provide the perfect time for you to rest and refresh yourself.


Stay Hydrated

  • Make an effort to stay hydrated. Self-care wise, this is the absolutely the most critical. Carry around a water bottle with you to ensure that you are staying on top of this, to the hospital, in the car, etc.


Most of all, know that you ARE doing enough, you ARE doing everything right, and you ARE absolutely not alone. Grief does not always just affect the patient; caregivers can commonly suffer more emotionally. Swedish offers a multitude of resources for you, from caregiver support groups and social workers at no additional cost. These resources provide a community for you to feel heard and help you navigate through your journey with your loved one.


 Check out the links below for more information and to get connected to the resources.



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