Thousands of people across the UK act as unpaid carers for a friend or family member, often taking this burden on alongside a full time job and them many other responsibilities we have to balance in day to day life.
If you provide unpaid support for someone, who without this would not manage alone, you are a carer. Whether you are eighteen or eighty, caring full time or helping with small regular jobs like the shopping counts as caring. Being a carer often means putting our own needs behind someone else’s which can contribute towards low mood, increased stress and anxiety.
There is a lot of support out there, and services like TALKWORKS can help you to manage the emotional difficulties you may be experiencing so that you can continue to care for yourself as well as the person you supporting.
LOOKING AFTER YOURSELF
It can be hard to make time to prioritise our own needs when we care for someone else, but this does not make doing so any less important. Think about the safety advice you are given on a plane; ‘always put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else’. Why do they suggest this? Well, if we don’t look after ourselves, not only are we left feeling depleted and low, but we may then struggle to provide care for others too. So while it may be easier to say ‘I don’t have time to think about myself’, think about the long term cost of this and whether this is the advice you would give to a friend in your position.
Here are some small initial changes that might help you to look after your own health and wellbeing when you are in a caring role:
LOOKING AFTER THE WELLBEING PENNIES:
Have you heard the expression ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’? Well the same is true of wellbeing. Looking after yourself doesn’t have to mean going on holiday (though wouldn’t it be nice if it did…). Have a think about the small things you can do to look after yourself. Are you eating 5 fruit and veg a day, are you drinking enough water and exercising regularly? What would feel differently if you were? Looking after your physical health can go hand in hand with improving your mental wellbeing.
FINDING 10 MINUTES OF SPACE
10 minutes may not seem like a long time, but it can still help us to recharge our batteries. Have a pleasurable activity ready to go for the next time you find yourself with ten minutes of space. This might be having a book or magazine ready, or putting on the kettle and having a cup of tea. It’s important to have space and time to yourself, even if it is for as little as ten minutes, when you’re caring for someone else.
RE-EVALUATING THE PLEASURABLE ACTIVITIES:
Often we value our own pleasure as less important that the jobs on our to-do list, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Why not try giving both equal importance? Is hoovering the stairs really that important? What if you were to take that time and use it for yourself? What would you do instead? Would that make it easier to manage the other demands of the day? By re-evaluating our pleasures and taking a step back to reconnect with ourselves, we can make time to enjoy doing the things we love.
SCHEDULING IN TIME FOR YOURSELF:
Rather than just expecting to find time for your own life between caring activities, why not consider scheduling this in? For example, is there another friend or family member who could plan to step in for an evening so you can see some friends at the pub? Or perhaps there are times in your day when you know you have an hour or two to yourself and could schedule in a nice long soak in the bath? Making time for yourself and giving yourself space is really important.
THAT’S ALL VERY WELL… BUT I JUST CAN’T!
If the above suggestions do not feel doable because of a lack of time or an overwhelming sense of responsibility, then it could be time to consider getting some support for yourself. Being in a caring role can feel overwhelming and stressful, but you do not need to go through this on your own.
WHAT HELP IS AVAILABLE TO ME?
TALKWORKS therapists are used to working with people who experience a whole range of stress and responsibility in their lives. Following an initial assessment, your Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) will discuss what support might be helpful for you. This might include getting you in touch with support organisations or a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help you cope with the demands you face without it negatively impacting your mental health. This CBT can be flexible around your responsibilities and can be done, online, via the phone or face to face according to your preference. Being a carer does not mean you have to feel constantly low or worried, contact us online or by phone on 0300 555 3344 for an assessment appointment to see if we can help.
Devon Carers also offer support for anyone who has taken on a caring role. If you are struggling with the demands of caring, you can find lots of useful information on their website. Alternatively, if you want to talk to someone about your caring responsibilities, contact their helpline (03456 434 435) or use their web chat.