Self-Care for Carers
Carers provide support and assistance to friends and/or family who have an illness (mental or terminal), disability, chronic condition, substance dependency or who is frail and needs additional care.
Every caring situation is different – some provide 24/7 care to individuals in need of specialist care including feeding, bathing, dressing, lifting and moving, and administering medications. Others provide care through assisting with tasks like shopping, cleaning, cooking or providing transport.
Some people gradually increase caring duties over a period of time if they are caring for someone with a gradual or chronic illness such as dementia; others become carers overnight as a result of accidents or often, those providing care do not identify as a ‘carer’ – as a result, they do not always have access to support networks and services that can assist them.
Common issues carers face
Carers are very generous individuals however they can face issues in their own life as a result of their commitment to their friends and/or family. These can include:
- Financial issues
- Social isolation
- Physical wellbeing
- Mental wellbeing
- Stress and anxiety
Tips for self-care
Carers often neglect their own health and wellbeing to care for their loved one(s). Maintaining your own health will give you the energy to cope with the challenges you will face as a carer.
1. Nourish your body
Eat a nutritious and balanced diet with lots of protein, fruits and vegetables. Low glycaemic-index foods like wholemeal bread or pasta, oats or porridge, sweet potato, legumes and lentils will release energy slowly throughout the day. Avoid fatty and sugary snacks – they may give you an immediate energy boost but it will wear off quickly and leave you feeling more tired than you were.
2. Exercise Regularly
Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle as well as a mood booster – it releases endorphins (the ‘happy hormone’) which will lift your mood. It can also increase the quality of your sleep. Try to fit in 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 3 times a week – walking and swimming have low impact on your body but are good for your cardiovascular health. Make sure you check in with your GP before starting a new exercise regime.
3. Take time for yourself
Everyone needs some time out every now and then, including carers. Take some time for yourself to do something relaxing and recharge your batteries – you might like to try slowing breathing, listening to soothing music, visualisation, step outside for a walk, read a book, have a warm bath or take some time to meditate. Respite care is important to enable you to have some proper time off, be it for a few hours or longer if you are in need of a holiday. Ask your family or friends if they are able to take over your care duties temporarily or look into community respite options. These can take place in your home, or the person you are caring for can stay in a respite house.
Social interaction is key to ensuring you do not feel alone in your caring role – spend time with people who you enjoy being around and it will lift your mood. It can help to talk about your situation with others, or to take your mind off caring altogether. You might like to join a support group and talk with people in similar situations where you can share ideas and concerns – if there are none in your area, there are online support networks that you may find useful.
5. Plan ahead
A natural side-effect of being a carer is worry – common worries are who will look after their loved one(s) if they can’t, or what to do in an emergency. Think through all the potential problems that could arise and make plans for them now – it is better to act early, than react immediately. This will reduce stress and bring peace of mind to you, your family, and the person you are caring for.
6. Ask for help
It’s okay to ask for help. Whether you need some respite care for some time off, or some help with some jobs around the house, the chances are there are people in your life who are willing to lend a helping hand. There are also support groups and charities dedicated to supporting carers – research what’s in your area and take advantage of services like meal deliveries.
Source: This is an edited extract from ‘Self-care for carers’, available from AFA Care and Benestar at https://benestar.com/. For more information about accessing AFA Care resources available at Benestar please visit https://www.afa.asn.au/afa-care