It is hard to imagine how much a carer does for the person they’re responsible for. Caring for a loved one will not only be demanding work that needs to be undertaken daily, come rain or shine and regardless of how the carer themselves might be feeling; it will also carry with it untold physical, financial, and emotional challenges for the carer.
A lot of us are responsible for caring for someone: there are over seven million carers in the UK and three in five people are expected to have to care for someone at some point in their lives, according to Carers Trust. This community of unsung heroes is increasing dramatically.
Carers Trust also found that:
- Carers providing more than 50 hours of care per week were twice as likely to report ill-health as those not providing care
- Carers providing high levels of care were associated with a 23% higher risk of stroke
- 17% of carers who had taken a break of more than a few hours experienced mental ill-health compared to 36% of carers who did not have such a break since beginning their caring role
It is difficult to be a carer and to not have bad days where you may feel overwhelmed. There will always be so much to do and no doubt a constant sense of responsibility; plus there will be no time for oneself, because someone else’s life may depend on you acting according to their schedule. The non-stop nature of the work that needs to be undertaken is naturally heightened for carers who are caring for more than one person or if they are alone in the care and support they’re providing for their loved one(s) - whether they’re elderly or disabled - you’ll most likely be working around the clock.
Thankfully, there are many support groups for carers all across the UK, aiming to support carers and their families. Carers UK and Carers Trust specialise in improving support, services, and recognition for people who are caring for a family member or a friend, unpaid; while local websites and support groups like Forward Carers in Birmingham and Carers Leeds in Leeds help by improving the physical and mental wellbeing of carers. These groups go a long way to help provide the information you might need as a carer; they may also offer vital support, coupled with the reassurance that you are not alone in what you do and that many others are going through the same struggles and challenges as yourself. Not only that, but local websites, charities, and support groups usually host events to improve the lives and wellbeing of carers - as well as giving them a chance to meet others who are going through the same difficulties.
Outside of turning to these support groups for a whole host of information, when it comes to the day-to-day, it is important to make time for yourself as a carer. We have listed five practical tips that you can follow to look after yourself more.
What you can do to improve your wellbeing as a carer:
- Talk to others about how you are feeling
As the old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved, so talking to someone who cares about you can go a long way to start to lift up your spirits. Choose a friend who has positive energy and who will help you by trying to understand what you are going through. They don’t have to have the answers, sometimes listening can be more than enough because it can be the first step towards taking a burden away by trying to understand your own feelings.
Even if there is no one in your immediate circle with whom you feel comfortable talking to, remember there are other people - often well skilled in this type of help - that you can turn to, including:
• A local care support group - Carers UK and Carers Trust both have directories where you can search for local care support groups.
•Contact a helpline - Carers UK have their own helpline, many other websites will certainly have a helpline too.
•Talk to other carers in online forums or communities - Carers Trust has a list of places you can chat to other carers.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
We all need help from time to time, and the ones who ask are the strongest of us all, as first, they realise they need it and, second, they are not afraid to ask. A lot of people initially turn to their loved ones for help, and as long as your friend or family member is willing to help (even if they don’t intuitively know how to), guide them specifically so that they know exactly what they need to do to support you. You can ask the person to just listen to you offloading, you might ask them to take over from you for 30 minutes a week or a day - whatever is feasible and whatever you need, make it simple and clear. Although what you’re asking for may not sound like a lot, it could make all the difference to your daily duties. Additionally, if you are working and need to reduce your hours to fulfil your caring responsibilities, then you have a right to ask for flexible working hours. For more information on this, please visit: https://www.carersuk.org/help-and-advice/work-and-career/other-rights-at-work
- Avoid compassion fatigue
Be aware of how much work you are taking on at one time; there’s only so much that you can do. Make a list, either mentally or literally, of all the support that the person you are caring for, needs; then consider the list and be realistic with yourself about about the time and effort it will take to do things: honestly ask yourself how much you can do and what you will need help doing. This list can help you to cope a bit better and to help you stay organised so that sticking to a routine won’t feel so difficult. As a precaution, think about writing down the list so that someone else could find and act on your routine, if you were to become unwell or if you just needed a break.
- Take time out for yourself
You need to make sure you are looking out for yourself too, taking a break will certainly help your mental health. An hour or two, or even more, will help you to clear your head. We suggest you do something that lifts you up, whether that’s going out shopping, taking a relaxing bath, socialising with friends, reading a book for an hour if possible - any activity that allows time for yourself will certainly help. If time is too short, you can just go into a separate room or space and do some deep breathing for relaxation purposes. Here’s a guide from the NHS on breathing exercises. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/ways-relieve-stress/
Try to fit these breaks into your daily routine - you may not be able to take a break every single time you feel like you need one but it’s important to have some time that you can call your own. Fitting the breaks into a routine will help you to make plans with other people, which will surely give you something to look forward to and therefore help with giving you the respite your mind and body may well be craving.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep
If you are not getting enough sleep, it can be difficult to complete your daily tasks and it makes your day-to-day challenges more difficult. Lack of sleep can also generate more stress, which you certainly don’t need, and can even lead to depression. It is important to have a good routine and to stick to it. Relax before bed, if you can, and always try to go to bed at roughly the same time every day: your body will know it’s coming and thank you for it, we’re sure.
Finally, if you have a lack of familial or friends’ support, consider hiring someone to relieve you of your duties occasionally: A hired personal care assistant can come into the home of the person you’re caring for and help you, even if only for a few precious hours a week. This person can be like a breath of fresh air.
For any conscientious carer, it will always be hard to break the routine, it will be hard to just let go of what you’re doing, maybe to run your own errands or to go for a guilt-free walk, or to treat yourself to a longer than usual shower - but it’s important to remember, as the author Michael Hyatt says, "You can’t take care of anyone else unless you first take care of yourself."
UKCIL.com can help you find, meet, and hire personal care assistants to help you in and around the home. They can come in for as little as two hours a week if that’s all you require and their help can be affordable as well as flexible because you choose the hours worked.