How can I get my anxiety under control while caring for my mother with lung cancer?

2 answers | Last updated: Jan 12, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

I've been caring for my mother ever since she was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, and lately I've been so anxious and overwhelmed, I'm not sure I can keep it together. What can I do to get my anxiety under control?

Expert Answers

Phyddy Tacchi is a psychiatric advanced practice nurse at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Your anxiety is a natural response to being under extreme stress. Nobody has a crystal ball and can tell you what is going to happen, and that's really hard to cope with. Remind yourself that you're not crazy when you feel like you're about to crack under the pressure.

It's a natural human instinct to plan and take charge -- but cancer takes such an unpredictable course that no one can predict what's going to happen five minutes from now. So you have to find ways to accept and work with the uncertainty.

For the caregiver, there's another level of anxiety, which is: Am I going to do something wrong that could kill this person I love? We send patients home now and expect caregivers to do things that skilled nurses used to do. It's way too much medical responsibility, and that's incredibly stressful. I cared for my father when he had cancer, and even as a trained nurse, I found the medical issues that came up every day to be overwhelming. Remind yourself over and over that you're as well informed as you can be, and you're doing as good a job as anyone else in your situation could be doing.

Finally, every chance you get, take a deep breath and remember that this is a job you simply can't succeed at in the way you want to succeed. Caregivers think they haven't done their job unless the patient is free of symptoms and side effects, and that's impossible. It's also natural to feel that your job is to keep your parent alive, and that you aren't succeeding if your parent's condition is getting worse. But while your care helps your parent do as well as possible, life and death are not within your power.

What you need to do is redefine your role: What does it mean to be a good caregiver? I tell caregivers that their goal is to keep the patient as comfortable as possible. You're doing a good job when you're doing everything you can to keep your parent comfortable. That's true success, and you can feel really good about that.

That said, if these ways of viewing the situation don't seem to be relieving your anxiety, consider visiting a therapist. Many caregivers also find it helpful to join a <link>caregivers' support group<link CA.QA.tachsupgrp > to help them deal with the inevitable anxiety and stress. Getting a professional perspective can be extremely helpful when a situation is overwhelming.

Community Answers

Lovelyday answered...

Phyddy Tacchi...I agree with you 100%.

I also would like to add that sometimes we feel we can handle the daily care of the patient better than the person we are caring for but I have found that when I have asked the person I am caring for, what they want me to do for them and what they can do for themselves....they feel relieved that I asked them. They maybe seriously ill but unless they are fully incapacitated they need to know they are still in charge of their life.

We need to understand and accept that we need some TLC too. So don't neglect your health...emotional or physical. Call in all those offers that your family and friends have offered to help you with...and don't be to proud to come out and ask for help. You can't go this alone, all the time.

God Bless you and I do hope that in time your load will lessen for you.