CanHOPE is a non-profit cancer counselling and support service provided by Parkway Cancer Centre, Singapore.

Psychological Health

Caring for Caregivers

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Caring for your loved ones with cancer can at times be overwhelming. It is therefore important for you to be in good shape in order to be a consistent, caring and efficient caregiver.

What is caregiver burnout?

Do you find yourself constantly exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally? Are you side-lining your personal interests or do you find yourself feeling helpless? You may be experiencing burnout – a combination of physical, emotional, and mental fatigue. A caregiver with burnout may also experience a significant change in attitude, from positivity and zealousness, to negativity and indifference.

Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout:

Some of these are similar to the symptoms of stress and depression. They include:

  • Physical: Change in weight/appetite, chronic fatigue, trembling or sweaty palms, loss of appetite or bingeing, change in sleep patterns, falling ill more often, headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension, stomach discomfort
  • Emotional: Irritability/mood swings, ruminating thoughts, feelings of helplessness, worry, fear, sadness or inadequacy, feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person whom you are caring for
  • Mental: Poor concentration, forgetfulness, low self-esteem
  • Behavioural: Withdrawal from friends and family, inclination towards excessive drinking and smoking, withdrawal from activities that were previously enjoyable, easily distracted, aggressive or rash actions, nervous habits

The Importance of Self-care

Being a primary caregiver is challenging and it is essential to be mindful of your physical and emotional well-being. Self-care is crucial for you to recharge, to de-clutter your mind and to release any physical tensions developed over time during caregiving.

Self-care strategies can range from spending time with friends or catching up on reading. Finding time for activities that you enjoy will help you relax and stay grounded, and counter feelings of helplessness, emptiness and frustrations especially when your energy levels are low. Here are some ways to ensure self-care and to bust burnout:

Get Organised

Trying to meet the many responsibilities of caregiving can be daunting and tiring. Create a realistic daily “to-do list” to help you stay organised and keep your priorities in order.

Rotate Caregiving Duties

Do not be afraid to ask for help. Get someone else to be a secondary caregiver so that you can have some time away from your duties. This may also help to reduce over-dependency on you as the primary caregiver. Also, learn to accept offers of help from others, and suggest specific things or errands that they can do to help you.


Exercise will not only improve your physical health, but also help to reduce stress and anxiety. During exercise, your body releases endorphins, dopamine and serotonin which are hormones that can improve your mood and make you feel better about yourself.

Connect with Other Caregivers

Get to know other caregivers. Join or form a social support network to exchange stories and tips so that you can provide and enjoy mutual encouragement. You can also take part in caregiving workshops to learn new skills, or attend psycho-educational programmes to develop emotional coping techniques and resilience.

Practise Relaxation Exercises

Set aside regular time for relaxation exercises such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or aromatherapy. Choose a quiet and peaceful environment that will help you feel calm and relaxed – it could be a cosy corner of your home, the park, or the beach. Remove yourself from distraction and allow yourself to immerse in a purposeful time of relaxation. This can help you slow down the harried pace of your everyday life as a caregiver.

Seek Professional Help When You Need To

It is alright to ask for help when you need it. If you feel so overwhelmed that it affects your daily routines at work, school, home or in your relationships, do consider seeking help from a mental health professional such as a counsellor.

CanHOPE’s professional allied health team is available to help you and your loved ones manage a cancer diagnosis. Our services include dietary counselling, psycho-social counselling support, palliative care support, patient and caregiver support groups and cancer-education workshops. To find out more, visit us online at