However much a carer likes or loves the person being cared for, the emotional and physical demands of the role can be stressful. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that you, the carer, are important too.
Stress can cause damaging emotional and physical symptoms, and should be faced before it harms your health and makes you a less effective carer.
There is a lot of support available. You may need to ask for help – but pride can get in the way of doing so. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it is an acknowledgement of reality. If people do not realise the difficulties you face they may assume that all is well. And that you do not wish to be contacted.
Different sorts of support include the following:
Family, Neighbours and Friends
Write a list of tasks that you would appreciate help with: spending time with the person while you go shopping, doing some cooking for you, weeding the garden, people like to help. Try it! If they offer help, never turn down an offer; they may not ask again.
Visit your doctor for regular examinations, not just with the person you care for, but also for yourself. Write lists of things that concern you, or questions to ask. It is easy to forget what to say in the doctor’s surgery, so a list is helpful. Ask for help from other relevant professionals too.
Keep a list of useful telephone numbers of local services for easy access that you can contact for help.
See if there is a local carers’ group. Talking with others who have similar experiences can help you to feel understood and part of a community of friendly people. You can get lots of practical advice from other carers. You may also laugh together at certain aspects of your role. When caregivers get together, they often find that they share similar feelings. Also, look for online groups where you can exchange ideas, find friendship and ask questions.
Time for Yourself
Set aside regular time to do something just for yourself. This may be a special time daily, where you can listen to music, read the newspaper or go for a walk. Socialise with others and maintain your hobbies and interests. You could even gain skills and interests by signing up for a new course. Keep in contact with the world outside your caring role. If possible, take short breaks away, asking family members or local support services to supply respite care in your absence.
Eat a well-balanced diet with fresh fruit and vegetables daily. Do not resort to comfort-eating, smoking or drinking too much alcohol if you feel trapped at home. Organise physical activities – these can boost your energy and your mood. Make sure you get enough sleep. If your sleep is disturbed by the person that you care for, discuss this with your doctor to find a practical solution without delay. If your caring duties involve lifting the person, take special care of your back. Ask specifically for advice from a medical professional such as an occupational therapist, and get some lifting aids.
If you start feeling depressed, anxious or stressed, see your doctor as soon as possible. This is easier to tackle at an early stage. Enjoy doing things with the person you are caring for, and if possible, have fun together. Do not just get into the rut of doing everyday chores. Allow him or her to do as much as possible to help you or help him/herself.
Learn to relax by releasing the pressure, specific relaxation techniques and also by light exercise.
Sometimes, caring for another person can seem like a thankless task. Maybe you do not feel appreciated, and perhaps others do not realize how much you do. Give yourself an occasional gift or treat for managing the situation, and finding new strengths and skills that you have gained.