RECENTLY, I MET an old friend for dinner. The two of us spent most of the evening crying tears of laughter as we reminisced about the petty dramas of our college days. My partner’s cancer didn’t come up in our conversation, and luckily, my friend didn’t press me for details. The next morning, I woke up feeling lighter than I had in months—and ready to be present for my partner, Jackie, who has multiple myeloma. The night out was exactly what I needed: a break from cancer.
For many of us, stepping away from a loved one who is ill feels counterintuitive. But I’ve found that carving out time for myself—whether a few minutes a day or a few hours a week—improves my ability to care for Jackie. Here are some tips for taking a timeout:
Give yourself permission to focus on you. A lot of caregivers, including me, feel guilty about needing time away. But self-care is essential for managing your stress levels so you can care for your loved one.
Set aside time. Think about how much time you need and what a break means for you. Perhaps you need a day away from the house once a month or a few hours once a week to watch a favorite movie.
Do what makes you happy. All of us have tasks or hobbies that bring us joy. I feel energized after catching up with friends and talking about everything but cancer. Other activities, such as taking a nap or working out, may help to restore your spirits.
Lean on others. Ask willing family members and friends to share your load. Be specific: Schedule dinner with a friend, for example, to let off steam. If you prefer to spend time alone, have some friends keep your loved one company while you head to the bookstore.
Simplify. Even short relaxation rituals, such as taking a warm bath before bed or watching a funny TV show, can be powerful resets. I like working in my garden in the morning, and I enjoy walking to the food co-op by my house to have some extra “me time” before making dinner in the evening. Opportunities like this are everywhere if you seek them out.
Don’t delay. Going too long without personal downtime can contribute to caregiver burnout, depression and health problems. Step away before you get to that breaking point.
Call in the professionals. Respite care provides temporary professional assistance for the person with cancer so the caregiver can get some time away. Some, but not all, health insurance plans cover the cost, so check with your insurance provider or talk to your loved one’s care team for recommendations.
No matter how stressed you feel, finding time to work in soothing activities can help to lower your anxiety. Schedule something this week. Then, do it again next week.
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