Help & Care
Caring for Someone

Caring for Yourself

Caring can be rewarding, but many carers also find it demanding, both physically and emotionally. If you have been caring for someone for some time, you may feel exhausted. You might feel guilty making time for yourself. However, looking after yourself can help relieve the stress and exhaustion of caring, and reduce feelings of frustration and isolation.

Make time for yourself
Some carers have said they felt like they lost their identity when caring. You may feel like your career, interests and health are no longer important or have to take second priority. 

  • Take some time every day, even if it's just 10 minutes, to do something for yourself. You don't have to leave the house. For instance, you can take a nap, catch up on personal phone calls, emails and letters, do some gardening, read or simply relax.
  • Plan in advance when you will take time for yourself, so you can fit it in with your caring responsibilities. 
  • Try to stay involved in activities you enjoy. It will give you something else to think and talk about outside of caring.
  • Let friends or family know that you want to chat about things other than caring.
  • Ask family and friends to help you so you can have regular breaks or arrange respite care. 
Care for your body
Carers can often forget to look after their own well-being. When they do notice that they're not feeling well, they tend to downplay their own health needs. You can acknowledge that you're not feeling well without comparing it with how the person with cancer is feeling. 

  • Eat healthy meals and snacks. If the person you care for has long appointments or is in hospital, you may need to bring healthy food from home.
  • Try to get enough rest. Tiredness often adds to the stress of caring and may make you feel irritable. Taking a warm bath or listening to relaxing music before bed may help you relax.
  • Continue having check-ups with your own doctor.
  • Avoid using alcohol or cigarettes to deal with stress. These may make you feel better for a short time, but they contribute to other problems.
  • Exercise for 15-30 minutes each day. This will make you feel more energetic, help you sleep better and improve your mood. If you can leave the house, a walk, run or swim may help. An exercise bike or a yoga/meditation mat will mean you can exercise at home.
  • See a doctor if you notice changes in your health such as fatigue, sleep problems, weight changes and depression.
  • If you are lifting, moving or physically supporting the patient, don't go beyond your capabilities and hurt yourself. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy teams can give you advice about the correct techniques. It is important to stay as fit and well as possible so you don't end up with an injury. 
Deal with uncertainty
When the person you care for is having treatment, life may seem less predictable. You may have to put some plans on hold because you are not sure what is ahead. Carers often find this uncertainty stressful. You may find it easier to cope if you focus on things you can control.

You may be able to schedule doctors' visits so you can attend with the person you're caring for. It may also help to learn more about cancer and possible treatment options, so you feel like you have more knowledge about what is happening.

Talk with family and friends
Talking about how you feel about caring, particularly if you are feeling angry (venting) may help you deal with these emotions.

You may feel uncomfortable talking to the person with cancer because you think they have a lot to deal with already and you are meant to be their support. It's understandable if you don't want to talk to the person with cancer, but try not to hold in all your feelings. You can share your feelings with friends or family members, or join a support group for carers.

Organise your time
It may not be possible to do everything you want to do. You will need to manage your time. 

  • Prioritise your weekly tasks and activities.
  • Use a personal planner/diary to keep track of information and appointments.
  • Ask for help from family, friends or support services. For instance, someone might be able to make dinner or drive the person with cancer to treatment.
  • Asking for help is not a sign of failure and it may relieve some pressure.
  • Concentrate on one task at a time, e.g. making dinner.
  • Avoid multiple shopping trips, e.g. do one large shop rather than going daily.
Focus on the value of caring
Looking after someone with cancer is not always easy or satisfying. Many carers say they feel overburdened and resentful. However, many carers say focusing on the value they were adding through caring helped them to cope and made them feel better.

Some of the rewards of caring include:
  • Learning new skills
  • Strengthening your relationship as you demonstrate your love and commitment
  • Satisfaction from helping someone in need.

Asking others for help
You may want to do all that is possible to help, especially at first. If the condition of the person you're caring for changes over time, you may have to take on more tasks, which can make it harder to cope.

Some carers say they feel as though they have failed if they can't manage all the responsibilities of caring by themselves. Others worry that asking for help will be interpreted as a sign that they are not coping with caring, and their role will be taken away. You may feel that everything should be provided by the family and that outside help is not necessary.

Asking for and accepting assistance is sometimes difficult. You may find it hard to let others know what help you need. If you seem to be coping with everything, family and friends may not realise you need help. They may be waiting for you to ask for help because they don't know how to offer or fear they will be intruding or disturbing you.

There are some ways you can determine what needs to be done and who could help:
  • Write down everything that you do each day.
  • Ask yourself what things the person you care for wants only you to do. For example, the person may be most comfortable with you assisting them with toileting or showering.
  • Consider the tasks that are the easiest to delegate or share.
  • Think about specific tasks you enjoy or are particularly good at. You may want to do these things and allocate other responsibilities.
You may want to hold a family meeting to discuss how everyone is going to help. Tasks that are often done by or shared with others include:
  • Household tasks such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, ironing, shopping or gardening.
  • Driving the person you care for to appointments/attending appointments.
  • Picking up children from school or other activities.
  • Looking up information.
  • Keeping others updated.
  • Sitting and talking with the person you care for while you have a break.
Setting boundaries and limitations
To establish a happy and long-lasting caring relationship, it may help to set boundaries. Outline what you are comfortable helping with, the level of workload you can manage, and what your own needs are. The help of family, friends or support services can be used to fill the gaps. For example, if you find it uncomfortable or are physically unable to wash or provide intimate care to the person you care for, talk to a community nurse about providing this care. 

What about the person I care for?
Many people being cared for look forward to a change from their usual care arrangements as much as their carers do. However, sometimes the person with cancer may not want you to take a break, because they're worried about what it means for them. Explaining how a break will benefit both of you may help. 
We thank the reviewers of this booklet: Jane Ussher, School of Psychology, University of Western Sydney, NSW; Piero Bassu, Consumer, NSW; Lindy Cohn, Cancer Information Consultant, Cancer Council NSW Helpline; Dr Mandy Goldman, Cancer Counsellor, Private Practice; Christine Harris, Consumer; Joanna Jarrald, Assistant Project Coordinator, Cancer Council NSW; and Colleen Sheen, Executive Manager, Policy, Strategy and Communication Unit, Carers NSW.