How do I make time for myself as a carer?
If you are a carer, you might find yourself so focused on looking after your elderly dad or mum that you don’t make time for yourself. You probably even feel that there is no time for self-care. But it is important that you find ways to look after your wellbeing so that you do not end up feeling burnt out, stressed or making yourself feel ill.
You’re not alone in this as a carer. According to Carers UK 1 in 8 adults, that’s around 6.5 million people, are responsible for looking after somebody else. Being a carer comes with its own challenges and it’s important to understand these so that you can spot any early warning signs and take time out for yourself.
You might develop physical problems caring for a loved one. These could include injuries because you’re helping them move around or they might even be physically aggressive towards you. This could be because they get stressed, confused or they have a condition such as dementia.
Experiencing physical pain or this sort of treatment might make you feel more anxious which then makes you feel tired. Then there are the added jobs on top of your caring responsibilities - looking after a family or managing a job - all of which will add to the pressure and make you feel even more exhausted.
What steps can you take to look after yourself if you are a carer?
It is very important that you take the time to find activities that are right for you, so try different things until you find something that suits you and mix them up depending on how you are feeling day-to-day.
The first thing we’d recommend is talking to someone. This can be a family member, a friend or even a professional. Gone are the days of the Great British ‘stiff upper lip’, talking about how you are feeling is a great way to manage stress. Telling yourself things like there is always someone worse off can lead to you bottling your feelings up and becoming overwhelmed. This might actually mean that you are not able to care for your loved one as well. Also, make a note to tell your GP that you are a carer, they might be able to give you some guidance or tips that could help ease the pressure a little.
Try to write things down in a diary or on a wall planner so that you don’t end up feeling flustered or overwhelmed. Often when we are stressed it can be more difficult to remember things which can lead to you feeling even more stressed or increase feelings of anxiety and worthlessness.
Schedule some regular time for yourself. Mark it in your diary and make sure you stick to it. This might even involve arranging for somebody else to take care of your loved one for a period of time. Then use the time to focus on what you enjoy. This could be going shopping or meeting friends for lunch or a coffee. Or you might want to go for a walk, a run or join an exercise class like yoga.
Taking a break doesn’t always have to involve something like meditation or deep breathing - although these definitely do help. Relaxing can involve sitting and reading a magazine, taking a bath or watching a film. Whatever you decide to do, try not to feel guilty. At the end of the day, you can only care for your loved one if you take care of yourself. Try to get plenty of sleep and make time for relaxation, UK charity MIND has some great tips on relaxation.
Although this habit is really common, one of the worst things you can do is set unachievable or unrealistic goals for yourself. We’ve all been there, you start a task with the best intentions and life just sort of gets in the way. Be realistic - and patient. You’re never going to be able to achieve what you set out to do while at the same time caring for another adult.
Try not to get frustrated. Often, if you are the primary career, it might feel like you're doing a lot more to look after your elderly parents than other relatives. This can lead to you feeling frustrated and being busy and stressed just makes things worse. Think about finding a carers support group. There are many throughout the UK. Here you can socialise with people who are in similar situations to you. Many people find these sorts of groups comforting because they can talk to people who understand what they are going through.
If you feel that caring for your loved one is becoming too overwhelming, you should consider if it is practical to arrange some respite care. It’s designed to give you a break from caring and comes in many different forms. You can have someone come to you or you can drop your loved one at a group. You might even be entitled to financial support and so it is worth checking with your local authority if this is something you are entitled to.
Remember, it’s important to make time for yourself even if you feel like every day is too busy. Doing this will keep you healthy and happier in the long run, keeping you mentally well and able to look after your elderly relative.