Caring can be very rewarding, but it can also be physically and emotionally exhausting, especially if you don’t have steps in place to keep you energised and well supported. You are doing a vital job, whether paid or unpaid, and you need to take care of yourself as well as the people you are caring for.
You’ve probably heard people talk about “self-care”, which covers different ways of looking after yourself. As well as being good for you, self-care can ensure that carers are in a position to care for their relatives or clients in the best possible way. If you are well rested, you will have more patience and energy. If you have counselling or other emotional support, you will be in a better position to emotionally support the people you are looking after.
We have put together some sensible advice that can make all the difference if your caring responsibilities are leaving you emotionally fraught or physically wiped out.
Ask for help – and accept the help you are given
There is no shame in asking for help when you need it. Whether it is asking another relative to take up some of your caring role, or asking your GP to refer you to a physiotherapist for injuries you have sustained lifting or carrying a client, asking for support will enable you to receive what you need.
Just as important is to accept the help you are offered. Some people feel like a ‘fraud’ if they are referred for, for instance, counselling services, or they feel that it suggests they are ‘mad’ when, really, it is a way to support somebody who is struggling in very difficult circumstances.
If your doctor or other health professional – or your boss – thinks you need some extra help, take them up on their offer.
There are lots of factors to take into account when asking for, or receiving, help - from considering whether you need support from a psychologist, to solutions to help you deal with your caring responsibilities (such as respite care, or help from family and friends). Keep reading to find out more.
Emotional and psychological support
Your emotional health can be especially impacted by the wellbeing of the person you are caring for. If they have a life-limiting condition or if they are distressed, you may struggle to cope.
Some signs that you are struggling with mental ill health include:
Experiencing low mood
Worrying a lot
Extreme tiredness, often combined with not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
Not being able to concentrate
Feeling extremely energetic and not being able to wind down
Avoiding going out or seeing people
Changes in your eating habits or appetite
It is important to realise when you need help, without being afraid of asking for support.
Dealing with guilt
A lot of people feel guilty that they are not the perfect carer. They may feel guilty if they start to get frustrated or get feelings of dislike towards the person they are caring for.
Remember that you are coping as well as you can, and look at sharing responsibilities if you start to feel overwhelmed with sensations of guilt. Ask for professional help when you feel you need it, too.
If you are an unpaid family carer, you can ask whether respite care is available for your loved one. This can involve your relative going into a care home for a few days, or it can mean carers coming to look after them in their own home. Find more information about respite care.
Help from relatives
If you are an unpaid family carer and you have other relatives who have any time, ask them to help to care for your loved one.
Even if they only have a few hours per week, they could take their turn to prepare a meal, help to get somebody ready for bed or take them out for a change of scene.
Don’t feel you are alone with your caring responsibilities. Make a list of family and friends who can offer occasional help and don’t be afraid to call on them.
You might be worn out from your caring responsibilities, but taking some time to do some exercise can fill you with energy and can help to keep you healthy and well.
Going for a walk or simply stretching your muscles regularly will help to keep you fit. Alternatively, you may find yourself more motivated if you join a group class such as yoga or a dance class.
Do something you will enjoy – this shouldn’t be a punishment!
It’s impossible to feel full of energy and prepared for your day if you do not have the right nutrition in your system. Try to eat a varied diet and include as many fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy protein, in your meals as you can.
Remember to try:
Eating a healthy breakfast every day. It will give you a good start on incorporating plenty of fibre into your diet, and will help you to avoid unhealthy snacks midway through the morning, too.
Adding fruit and vegetables to your diet. If you aren’t having five portions a day, aim for that. If you’re already on track for that, increase them further.
Cutting down on saturated fats – unsaturated fats from plants are far healthier, but even these should be eaten in moderation.
Cutting down on salt. Don’t add it when you’re cooking and don’t add any to your plate unless you have already tasted it.
Drinking plenty of water. Sometimes, when we think we feel hungry, we are actually feeling thirst but don’t recognise it.
Adding good things to your diet rather than taking bad things away. The more healthy food you eat, the less appetite you will have for things you might normally crave.
It’s sometimes easier said than done but getting enough sleep can make a real difference to how you feel. So, if you’re lying awake until the early hours, or waking up super early, try the following strategies:
Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning.
Don’t use your computer or phone late at night, as this can disturb your sleep pattern. Make your bedroom a screen-free zone.
Make sure your bedroom is dark enough; invest in thicker curtains if too much light is coming through.
Create rituals around your bedtime, such as having a hot bath before heading to bed.
Some people find that scents like lavender or chamomile relax them and make them sleepy, while others find herbal supplements like valerian useful to help them to drop off.
Cut down on caffeine and alcohol, both of which can keep you awake when you want to be dozing.
Socialise when you can
Whether you are a carer as your job, or you are caring for somebody you love in an unpaid capacity, you will be busy and have little time to spare.
However, when you do have an hour or two free, do your best to see your friends or family to make sure that you get some social time with those you love.
Take time for yourself
Don’t lose track of the things you love doing. Whether it’s knitting or crochet, reading a good detective novel or playing the guitar, use any time you can find to reconnect with those hobbies and rediscover your love for them.
If these can fit into the other self-care tips, like cooking healthy food or going for a hike in the countryside, all the better.
You can’t manage everything on your own, especially if you are juggling caring for an elderly parent with raising small children and a job. Write down everything you have to do, and see if there are any tasks you can delegate to anybody else, for instance cooking meals that are easy to reheat, or driving your relative to doctor appointments.
Know your limits, and don’t push beyond them, however much pressure there is to be the ‘perfect carer’. Use lists and speak to experts to work out which tasks you should prioritise and which can sometimes be left incomplete, when you are unable to do everything.
Talk to others in your position
If you are a professional carer, talk to your colleagues to see whether they have ever felt the way you are feeling. They almost certainly have, and they may have some excellent tips to help you cope with your feelings. They can also validate that your struggles and frustrations are real and this, in itself, can help you to feel better.
If you are an unpaid family carer, find a local support group and go along to any meetings they have. Finding others in the same position as you can be incredibly rewarding and can help you practically as well as emotionally.
Online support can also be very valuable, and easier to access than real-life support. Look for discussion forums or Facebook groups for carers and test the waters with a post when you feel ready.
Learn lifting and carrying
Take a course on how to safely lift and carry somebody. These are usually just one day long but can prevent years of damage to your back. Whether you are a professional or family carer, this is valuable knowledge that will help to keep both you and the person you care for safe.
Where to find extra support
You want to be a resilient, effective carer, and carrying out your caring responsibilities with affection and diligence means looking after yourself as well as your loved one or clients. If you ignore your own needs, you will lose the ability to cope over time and everything will become overwhelming.
By taking action now, you will become a better carer, as well as one who is more effective at managing their own wellbeing.
For more information about care for the elderly, download our Elderly Care Guide for free.
You can also download SuperCarers’ Funding Care Guide for useful advice on how to pay for your care.
Feel free to call us on 020 8629 1030. SuperCarers’ team will give you all the information you need about the best home care options in your area.