National Family Caregivers Month is observed every November to honor the incredible contributions and sacrifices caregivers make to support their loved ones.
National Family Caregivers Month is observed every November to honor the incredible contributions and sacrifices caregivers make to support their loved ones. This is also a time to bring awareness to the resources available to caregivers so that they take the best care of themselves, too. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), family caregivers are those who care for an ill or disabled relative and make up almost a third of the adult population in the United States. Most family caregivers are female, and many work part-time and full-time jobs. Unlike professional (or formal) caregivers, the services family caregivers provide to their loved ones are unpaid and outside of traditional employment.
At Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute (FCS), the burden that caregivers experience does not go unnoticed. The role family caregivers play is critical to the patient journey. For this reason, FCS recognizes and supports family caregivers, especially those caring for cancer patients. Behavioral health experts Karen Ridley, MSW, LCSW, and Stephen Voigt, MSW, LCSW, share valuable tips and advice for cancer caregivers about prioritizing self-care and well-being.
Harboring feelings and suppressing emotions are not helpful coping mechanisms. “[Everyone] needs an outlet for [their] feelings and someone to talk to,” says Stephen – especially family caregivers. Have someone who you trust, like a best friend, family member, religious figure or professional, and can fully express yourself with.” Karen adds that seeking out group settings, like organized support groups, “can be tremendously powerful as this is a space to learn from others” who are experiencing similar circumstances. It is also a resource that can help validate and normalize caregivers’ feelings.
“Caring for someone with cancer can be very demanding,” reminds Stephen. Feeling a range of emotions is normal, and many caregivers will refer to it as “like a rollercoaster” at times. Some days may be easier than others. Recognizing your emotions is the first step to overcoming difficulty on more challenging days. “Bring in compassion and grace,” notes Karen. “This helps caregivers to step into their role and do their best in any situation.” When things get overwhelming, remembering to take one day at a time, one moment at a time and one breath at a time can help ground caregivers in the present.
For caregivers, caring for oneself is just as important as supporting their loved one. Karen says, “If you are running on empty, you won’t get very far with helping others.” Caregivers may frequently put their relative’s needs over their own, but that can fuel fatigue and resentment and create an overwhelming environment. Stephen recommends prioritizing enough sleep and eating healthy meals to ensure caregivers keep their bodies physically strong and equipped. Self-care activities can support mental fitness. Examples of these activities can include (but are not limited to):
Everyone needs help; however, caregivers may be more likely to avoid asking for help so they don’t burden others – even if they are taking on all the weight of a relative’s illness. Stephen encourages caregivers by reminding them that “getting help can also help your loved one” because it can allow you to be in a healthier place. Other relatives may have time and skills that the primary caregiver doesn’t necessarily have. Accepting and recognizing these facts is crucial. Sometimes, it can take a lot of courage to ask for help. Karen notes the following tips: