It is easy for caregivers to get wrapped up in the needs of their patients, often neglecting their own in the process. This is especially true of new caregivers who might feel overwhelmed with their new role. To help make the transition into caregiving a little smoother, here are five tips to help get new caregivers started on the right foot.
Do your research and stay organized. Be sure to research your patient’s condition to gain a better understanding of their needs. If you are accompanying your patient to doctor appointments, ask lots of questions and write down or record the responses from the patient’s care team. Keep all medical documents and financial statements in a safe place, and use paper or a digital planner to keep track of appointments and other important dates, times to administer medications, to-do lists and other important notes.
Find people to vent to. Caregiving is not easy and there is no shame in admitting that. In fact, it can be cathartic and good for your mental health to release those feelings by talking to someone you trust, whether that is a friend, family member, licensed mental health professional or a fellow caregiver.
Join a support group. As a caregiver, no one will understand the unique challenges of your situation better than another caregiver. Joining a caregiver support group allows you to share your highs and lows with people who can empathize with you. Whether online or in person, support group members can offer each other support, guidance, advice and encouragement. City of Hope’s caregiver support group, Caregivers Connect, meets virtually and provides a safe place for caregivers to take time to relax, get support and get to know other caregivers. Caregivers Connect is open to all caregivers, all cancers, inpatients and outpatients, and the community.
Make time for self-care. You do not have to do something extravagant like going on vacation or enjoying a luxurious day at the spa to practice self-care. Instead, try to work self-care into your daily routine, so that you are nurturing for your mind, body and spirit on a consistent basis. Some ideas include reading, planning a night out with friends, doing a brief meditation, going for a walk, calling a loved one to chat, journaling, drawing, watching your favorite TV show or movie, or even just breathing deeply for a few minutes. Self-care also means taking regular breaks — whether those breaks last for a few hours or a few days. Find a backup to take over your responsibilities from time to time, so that you can come back refreshed for your patient.
Practice self-compassion. As a caregiver, and as a human, it is easy to blame yourself when something goes wrong. When this happens, resist the urge to beat yourself up. Speak to yourself kindly — as a friend would — and remember that you are doing the best you can. When you make a mistake, do not punish yourself. Be gentle with yourself, learn from your mistake and use that knowledge to do better next time. You are not perfect — no one is. But that does not mean you are a failure — it just means you are human.