5 Ways Chemo Caregiving Is Good for You

By Susan Amoruso Jara
Reviewed by Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS

We don’t have to tell you that caring for a loved one who’s going through chemotherapy can take a toll both physically and mentally. But, surprisingly, it can also positively impact your health.

Although caregivers are indeed more stressed, they also have higher physical endurance and better memories than noncaregivers. And some of the everyday actions that go with the territory—holding hands and hugging, for instance—can help ease anxiety and lead to improved well-being for both you and your loved one.

Read on to start reaping the health benefits of caring for your loved one with chemo: 

Better memory
All that juggling you do—organizing schedules, making appointments, staying on top of menus and medications—gives you a cognitive edge: In a study of roughly 900 women, caregivers scored higher than noncaregivers on memory tests.
Make it work for you: Try doing a crossword puzzle or playing some “brain games” with your loved one undergoing chemo. You’ll pass the time, stimulate your mind and strengthen your bond, too.

Reduced anxiety
Have you ever reached out to your loved one during chemotherapy or while awaiting test results? You may have done so to calm his or her nerves, but the act also helped take the edge off your own anxiety. Human contact is a powerful stress reducer: Researchers monitored the brain activity of female study participants who held the hands of a stranger, a spouse or no one and found that hand-holding helped relax the women, especially when husband and wife interlocked fingers.
Make it work for you: Grab your loved one’s hand, and feel the tension melt away.

Improved strength
Amid running to doctor appointments, shopping for groceries, cooking and cleaning, the idea of building strength may seem like a joke. Yet you may have more than you realize: Another study, with the same group of 900 women, showed that caregivers outperformed noncaregivers in walking pace, grip strength and the speed with which they rose from a chair.
Make it work for you: Next time you’re feeling fatigued, grab your sneakers and go for a brisk walk. A little exercise can reenergize you and give you some much-needed “me time.”

Mood-boosting embraces  
Here’s a new motto for caregivers: “When it doubt, hug it out!” Sometimes a sweet embrace is all it takes to make you, as well as your loved one undergoing chemotherapy, feel a little better. That’s because hugging has been shown to do wonders for your mood, according to a study featured in Psychosomatic Medicine. Couples sat close to one another, talked for 10 minutes and then shared a long hug; afterward, they had a rise in oxytocin, the feel-good hormone known to reduce stress and lower blood pressure.
Make it work for you: Put your caregiving duties on hold and simply snuggle up with your loved one tonight.

Better self-esteem
Caregivers are all-too familiar with giving—giving their time, energy and, often, money to care for a loved one. And studies now show that these altruistic acts can have a positive impact on your confidence, self-esteem and overall emotional health. The caveat: You need to strike a healthy balance between giving and receiving. This means knowing when to ask for help and when to carve out a respite.
Make it work for you: When you take your loved one shopping, pick up a special something for yourself. You might buy a favorite book or some bubble bath for a relaxing soak.

Published March 2014

  For Caregivers

Help Your Loved One With 'Chemo Brain'
8 Ways to Show Your Love
What Not to Say to Someone Having Chemo
Make Long-Distance Caregiving Work
Delight a Loved One Going Through Chemo
Get Your Loved One to Eat During Chemo
Keep Intimacy Strong

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