This information explains what anxiety is and how you can manage it while caring for a loved one.
Anxiety is a strong feeling of worry or fear that get in the way of you living your daily life. While it’s normal to feel like you have a lot to do, anxiety can stop you from doing regular tasks.
Causes of anxiety for caregivers
Caring for a loved one with cancer can be a rewarding experience that brings meaning and purpose. Caregiving while also handling your own responsibilities, feelings, and concerns about your loved one’s illness can cause anxiety or stress.
Being a caregiver comes with many tasks, such as managing medications, cooking, doing paperwork, making appointments, and tracking symptoms. You may feel like you need to do all these at once, which can be overwhelming. This is why it’s common for caregivers to feel anxious.
Anxiety can also be caused by:
- Having to do medical tasks you aren’t prepared for.
- Feeling like you don’t have control over your own life.
- Concerns about your loved one’s well-being.
- Being unsure about the future.
- Your loved one’s emotions about their cancer diagnosis and treatment.
- Your own emotions about your loved one’s cancer diagnosis and treatment.
- Not having enough support from family, friends, healthcare team, or other people in your life.
Signs of anxiety in caregivers
Anxiety can cause physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, or both. It’s important to recognize the signs of anxiety and ask for help when you need to.
Signs of anxiety include:
- Worrying that you cannot control.
- Fatigue (feeling more tired and weak than usual).
- A faster heart rate than usual.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded.
- Chest pain.
- Muscle tension.
- Dry mouth.
- Nausea (feeling like you’re going to throw up).
- Shortness of breath.
- Loss of appetite.
- Trouble concentrating and remembering.
Some symptoms can be caused by medical issues or medications you’re taking. This is why it’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling. If you experience any of these signs, talk with your healthcare provider. You can also contact any of the resources in the “MSK Resources” section for help.
Tips for managing anxiety for caregivers
Anxiety can affect your mood, your health, and the care you provide to your loved one. This is why it’s important to take care of yourself. If you don’t, you may feel like you’re too stressed or tired to do anything. Here are some tips that can help:
Take time for yourself
Balancing your own responsibilities with your caregiving role can make it feel impossible to take care of yourself. Caregivers often feel guilty or selfish for taking time for themselves. Some are afraid that something will happen to their loved one if they aren’t there.
If you need to be a caregiver for a long period of time, you have to take care of yourself. This can help you feel better and take better care of your loved one.
Set 3 goals each week to take care of yourself. Small, doable goals set you up for success. For example, instead of saying you’ll get more sleep, try getting ready for bed 15 minutes earlier each night. When you complete small goals, you get a burst of energy that pushes you to keep going.
Check in with yourself
Ask yourself how you’re feeling and consider your own emotions. Some caregivers find it helpful to keep a journal. Others find it helpful to write out their thoughts and feelings. Some prefer to express themselves through art, yoga, or dance.
Ask for help and accept it
Ask your friends and family members for help with household chores or with preparing meals. When people offer their help, take it. Feeling guilty about accepting help is normal, but needing support isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. You’ll take better care of your loved one and yourself the less overwhelmed you feel.
Being a caregiver comes with many responsibilities. It may feel like you need to do all these tasks at once, but that’s not realistic.
Choose what you need to do first to help you stay organized and feel less overwhelmed. You may find it helpful to create a checklist of the things you need to do today, this week, or this month. If you aren’t sure how to prioritize tasks, ask for help.
Do light physical activity
Light physical activity can help improve your mood and relieve stress. Get out into the fresh air and sunshine by going for a walk or a short bike ride. Talk with your doctor before starting new exercises.
Spend time with friends and family
Create a support system to stay connected to people who can support and talk with you about your experience. Anxiety and your caregiving responsibilities can make this feel hard to do. Having a support system can help lower stress and make you feel better.
Try relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques can help you manage your anxiety. Try deep breathing, meditation, and acupressure (putting pressure on parts of your body to help you relax). You can also visit www.msk.org/meditation to listen to free guided meditations.
If anxiety is getting in the way of your daily activities, medication may be helpful. There are many medications that can help improve your mood and treat anxiety. For more information, talk with your healthcare provider or call 646-888-0200 to make an appointment with the Counseling Center.
Ask about employee assistance programs (EAP) at work
EAPs often include counseling for financial problems, stress, anxiety, and depression. These programs can be different depending on where you work.
If anxiety is affecting your life in any way, talk with your healthcare provider. You can also contact any of the resources in this section for help. We can help you find the right treatment for you.
Support programs for anxiety at MSK
MSK offers many support options for caregivers. For more information about what MSK offers, visit www.mskcc.org/experience/caregivers-support/caregiver-services. Other organizations also offer educational and supportive resources. Read A Guide for Caregivers for more information about other support services and caregiving tips.
No matter how you’re feeling, we’re here to support you. MSK has many support programs that can help you with anxiety:
In-person support groups
Integrative medicine therapies at MSK
MSK’s Integrative Medicine Service provides services such as massages, acupuncture, yoga classes, reflexology, meditation, music therapy, and nutritional consults. These services are available to patients and caregivers. You’ll need to pay for these services out-of-pocket. Call 646-449-1010 for more information, or visit www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine to make an appointment.
Our social workers provide emotional support and guidance to patients and their families, friends, and caregivers. Social work offers programs, including both in-person and online support groups. They can also help with practical issues such as transportation to and from medical appointments, temporary housing, and financial concerns. Social workers are available at every MSK location. To talk with a social worker, ask your doctor or nurse, or call 212-639-7020.
Many people find that counseling helps them manage their emotions during caregiving. MSK’s counselors provide counseling for individuals, couples, families, caregivers, and groups. They can also prescribe medications to help with anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. For more information, ask your doctor or nurse, or call 646-888-0200.
The Caregivers Clinic
The Caregivers Clinic provides support specifically for caregivers who are having trouble coping with the demands of being a caregiver. Call 646-888-0200 or go to www.msk.org/cancer-care/doctor/allison-applebaum for more information.
MSK’s Counseling Center
641 Lexington Avenue (on 54th Street between Lexington and Third avenues)
New York, NY 10022
Integrative Medicine Service
Our Integrative Medicine Service offers many services to complement (go along with) traditional medical care. These include music therapy, mind/body therapies, dance and movement therapy, yoga, and touch therapy. To schedule an appointment for these services, call 646-449-1010.
You can also schedule a consultation with a healthcare provider in the Integrative Medicine Service. They will work with you to come up with a plan for creating a healthy lifestyle and managing side effects. To make an appointment, call 646-608-8550.
Monday through Friday from to
Saturdays from to
Bendheim Integrative Medicine Center
205 East 64th Street (on 64th Street between Second and Third avenues)
New York, NY 10065
Patient and Caregiver Education
Visit the Patient and Caregiver Education website to search our virtual library. There, you can find written educational resources, videos, and online programs.
MSK’s Virtual Programs offer online education and support for patients and caregivers, even when you can’t come to MSK in person. Through live, interactive sessions, you can learn about your loved one’s diagnosis, what to expect during treatment, and how to prepare for the various stages of cancer care. Sessions are confidential, free, and led by expert clinical staff. You may also find it comforting to speak with other caregivers in one of our online educational or support groups for caregivers.
If you’re interested in joining a Virtual Program, visit www.msk.org/vp for more information.