Caregiving may be the most challenging role a person can take on, but also one of the most valuable. In some instances, providing physical and emotional care to a loved one can become a round-the-clock job that may shift other priorities like career or relationships. However, spending this dedicated time caring for your loved one as you both navigate a lung cancer diagnosis can be rewarding, especially when you have the resources you need to be successful in your role. It is typical for caregivers to experience a range of emotions, not only when first transitioning to the role but also throughout their loved one's cancer treatment. Just as you support your person living with cancer, it is important to ask for help and seek support for yourself when needed. We often discuss the importance of physical health, but maintaining your emotional and mental health is key to avoiding caregiver fatigue and providing the best care for your loved one.
4 out of 10 caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as extremely high. Emotional stress is a natural and expected reaction; however, strategies and resources are available to help you cope and alleviate some of the strain. Below we will explore strategies to support your emotional health while caregiving.
Keeping a journal creates an outlet to share the variety of emotions you feel, both positive and negative. You may feel anger, worry, fear, frustration, grief, guilt, helplessness, resentment, and positive feelings, like a sense of accomplishment. Keeping a journal is a healthy way to make sense of your emotions and express yourself.
2. Practice Self-Care
Self-care is especially important for caregivers. Self-care isn’t choosing yourself over others; it’s balancing caring for loved ones and being aware and mindful of your own needs. Self-care includes actions or activities that can reduce stress and help you feel your best mentally and physically. LUNGevity compiled a self-care guide with suggestions from our community of lung cancer survivors and caregivers. Taking care of yourself can help you care for your loved one even better.
3. Maintain Connections
Caregiving can feel isolating, and you may feel guilty spending time away from the person you're caring for. Yet, maintaining relationships with friends or family removed from your cancer experience can be a needed respite. Sometimes participating in social activities can help, especially when a distraction is needed. Opening up and sharing what you are going through with a trusted friend may help you get things off your chest and feel better. A phone call, text, or interaction online can help you feel connected to the people and community around you.
4. Seek support
Just as feeling connected to friends and family is important, talking with other caregivers can help you feel less alone and more understood. If interested in meeting caregivers locally, you can ask your loved one's healthcare team about support groups that meet nearby. LUNGevity also offers online communities and virtual meetups that you can join. If you want a 1:1 personal connection, the LUNGevity LifeLine Program can match you with a volunteer who is a current or previous lung cancer caregiver via phone or e-mail.
5. Ask for Help
You might feel like you want to do everything possible for your loved one, but taking care of someone with cancer can be a big job. Getting help from others may take some of the pressure off you so you feel less alone or overwhelmed. Often, family or community members want to support you and your loved one but don't know how. Be specific about how others can help, and do not be shy about accepting assistance when it is offered. Sharing caregiver responsibilities or even daily tasks like getting groceries, doing laundry, mowing the lawn, walking the dog, making meals, or running errands can free up some much-needed time in your days.
6. Prioritize Mental Health
Knowing and recognizing the signs of burnout or caregiver fatigue is important, as these conditions can lead to a decline in mental health and affect your ability to provide for yourself and your loved one. When feelings of depression or anxiety become more constant, it may be time to seek professional assistance from a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. You can ask your primary care physician for a recommendation.
7. Educate Yourself
Stepping into the caregiver role is never easy but being educated about what to expect can help both you and your loved one feel more confident and prepared. The Caregiver Resource Center on LUNGevity’s website offers valuable information on the role of the caregiver, asking for help, legal and financial considerations, caregiver fatigue, and life after lung cancer. Lung Cancer 101 and the Survivor Resource Center also provide excellent information to better understand the diagnosis, treatment options, and the many ways you can support your loved one living with lung cancer.
We hope that these resources will help you navigate the caregiver experience and support your emotional needs while in this role. Remember that you are not alone and that there are multiple avenues for support. We invite you to join the Thursday Caregiver Connection (4th Thursday of the month) to gain further information and access to a community of caregivers. Additionally, LUNGevity’s Survivorship Team is always available by email at HOPE@LUNGevity.org.