When you spend most of your time looking after other people it's easy to forget to look after yourself too. But it's really important – because unless you're fit, healthy and relaxed you can't do a great deal for others. Looking after yourself will help you keep going – even when times are tough.
It's worth asking yourself a few questions on a regular basis as a way of checking how you're feeling about your caring role. These questions might include:
- Can I talk to someone I trust about the way I'm feeling?
- Am I getting enough rest?
- Am I eating regularly?
- Do I get enough breaks from my caring responsibilities?
- Am I getting enough time to exercise regularly?
Some of the tips below may help you to look after your own needs and manage your caring responsibilities – today and in the future. They have worked for other carers, so why not give them a try?
How can I keep myself healthy?
It's important to stay healthy for your own sake and because it helps you to continue giving quality care. Here are some tips to do this:
- make time for regular exercise. This will make you feel more energetic and give you a break
- have healthy, regular meals. This isn't always easy to do, but it's important for your long-term health
- get enough rest and sleep. Tiredness and exhaustion often add to the stress of caring
- look after your back if you need to lift or transfer the person you're caring for. Ask for professional advice from an occupational therapist, physiotherapist or community nurse on the safest way to lift or transfer the person you care for. Also ask about aids to assist with lifting
- talk to your doctor about your caring role.
Can I take a break?
Yes. In fact it's very important to take a break from your caring responsibilities for a few hours or even a few days. Constantly caring without taking a break can be bad for your health. You should try to continue with activities you enjoy. Even though the many demands of caring may make it difficult to manage, it's important that you follow your own interests outside your caring role.
It may be helpful to make a habit of creating special time just for yourself. Don't feel guilty about this, and try not to compromise too much on this time. Planning ahead can make this more achievable. For example, you may wish to do your chores when you have more energy and save a part of the day for yourself where you can stop rushing.
You might also like to practise relaxation. This doesn't need to take long – even 15 minutes a day can do the trick. Just sit and listen to music, relax or practise a simple meditation or stress-reduction technique.
What is respite care?
Respite care (also known as 'short-term care') is a form of support for carers. It gives you the opportunity to attend to everyday activities and have a break from your caring role. Respite care may be given informally by family, friends or neighbours, or by formal respite services.
What are carer retreats?
Carer retreats offer a place for carers to have some time away with other carers in a supportive and fun environment. They also organise respite care for the person you care for as a part of the retreat.
Can I ask family and friends to share the caring role?
Yes. Caring can be a round-the-clock job with significant responsibilities. That's why it's so important to consider seeking help and support, no matter how reluctant you may be to ask for it. Sharing the load also helps family and friends to:
- better understand your situation
- offer a listening ear when needed
- know how to offer help without interference
- contribute to decision making
- know what to do in an emergency.
What if they seem reluctant to help?
Sometimes your family and friends may be reluctant to help you with your caring responsibilities for various reasons. If this is the case, here are some ways of getting them involved:
- talk to them about the challenges you're facing as well as how rewarding caring can be
- don't try and protect them from your feelings – be open
- stay calm when you're talking to them and help them see things your way
- ask for help. Be upfront and name things they can help with such as cooking extra meals for the freezer or helping you to look after your garden
- let them know that their help is appreciated and that it's not an interference
- if they are still reluctant to help, then try to agree on some tasks rather than none.
Remember – it's your right to ask for help with your caring responsibilities. You don't have to do it alone.
What if I'm a young carer?
The Department of Social Services runs the Young Carers Respite and Information Service Program which can help you to continue your education or keep your job. Read more about looking after yourself as a young carer.
What if I need to talk to somebody?
Almost every carer will tell you about times they've had difficulties managing their responsibilities and the emotional stress that can accompany a caring role and have needed to talk with somebody. If you're feeling this way it's important to talk it over with your family, friends or your doctor.
You may also be able to receive carer counselling and connect with local support groups.
Extra assistance is available if you are hearing and speech impaired, or where translating services are required.