Welcome to Part 2 of our ongoing weekly series on Caregiving – advice, support, and stories for those who dedicate their time to caring for friends, family, and strangers dealing with cancer. Parts 1 and 2 are written by Kelly Grosklags, a psychotherapist in private practice and Angel Foundation board member.

We all know the old maxims that tell us that getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well, and drinking fluids are all good ideas for staying well. I want to particularly highlight exercise. It is important for caregivers to get at least 20-25 minutes of activity 3 times a week. Find someone to help with transporting your friend or family member to chemo, or go to the grocery store for you, so it frees up some time to exercise. You do not have to run or bike to consider it exercise – walking, swimming, and yoga are great cardiovascular exercise that help the mind, body, and spirit stay well. Exercise helps to release chemicals from the brain into the bloodstream that allow you to feel more balanced. Another wonderful technique is to find things that make you laugh, whether people, movies, or books. Laughing also helps the brain release great chemicals. It’s ok to laugh, even when things are difficult!

There is really no room for guilt while care giving. Many people feel an overwhelming sense of guilt if they take time out for themselves. As common as this is, it is not healthy or rational. And feelings of guilt bring about more stress on the mind and body. So remind yourself caring for you actually helps your loved one!

Taking care of yourself involves having realistic expectations of yourself, your loved one, your health care team and the process of healing. People with a perfectionist mentality tend to have the most issues with burnout from care giving. There will be days that you will make mistakes, and days that the physician, nurse and/or homecare team make mistakes. In order to be healthy we have to practice surrendering our impulse to remain in control and letting go of the mistakes. If they are not life-threatening, they do not deserve your energy.

I often suggest to families that they create a schedule for their shared responsibilities during the treatment, or after. Not everyone in the family needs to be at the chemo treatment, or cleaning the house, and so on all at once. Split the duties and let go of the idea you have to do it all in order to prove your love to your loved one. Good caregivers make wise decisions for themselves and for their loved ones.

Caregiving can be a liability and an asset in our daily lives. There are many wonderful opportunities that come from being allowed to care for someone you love so deeply. However, remember, if you are not well, you will not be able to take advantage of the good things that can come from caring for someone. Again, caring for you is ALSO caring for your loved one! Best wishes to you all…

Kelly Grosklags, MSW, LICSW, BCD

Psychotherapist in Private Practice

Board Member, Angel Foundation