Your Needs & Emotional Wellbeing For Carers

Being a carer is hard work, but you need to look after yourself. There are so many demands on your time every day that it can be difficult to find time for yourself. That stress can build up, so looking after yourself is important when you're a carer. Keeping well reduces the risk of you being unable to look after someone due to a problem with your own health.

But no one can plan for every eventuality, and we all get ill sometimes. This page provides some ideas for keeping well, and the rest of this section gives some positive steps that carers can take to look after their own needs.

Healthy diet

Eating well is a vital part of looking after yourself. A balanced diet includes at least five different portions of fruit and vegetables a day. These can be fresh, frozen and tinned.

Starchy foods such as bread, cereals, potatoes, pasta and rice are also vital. About a third of your diet should consist of starchy foods. Choose wholegrain bread or cereal as these are higher in fibre and nutrients such as B vitamins, calcium and iron.

Cut back on salt and sugar. The same goes for saturated fats and 'trans fats'. They can push up your cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, can reduce your cholesterol levels and provide you with essential fatty acids.

Exercise

Exercise is vital for your physical and mental health. It helps you deal with stress and makes you feel better emotionally. Physical activity also helps to make your heart stronger, keeps you supple, and reduces all sorts of health risks. Walking, swimming, housework, gardening and even walking upstairs can make a difference.

Ideally, you should take 30 minutes of moderate exercise five or more days a week. That means you should feel warmer and breathe more heavily than usual. If you haven't taken any exercise recently, build up slowly. And if you have any existing health problems, ask your GP for advice before you start.

Sleep

If you're looking after someone who needs a lot of care, are combining caring with a job, or are feeling depressed, you probably aren't getting enough sleep. This in turn can make it harder to cope, and it can further affect your mental health. If you're having trouble sleeping, try to take some exercise during the day, as this can help. Relaxation exercises can also help. Sit comfortably in a quiet place, close your eyes and concentrate on breathing slowly and deeply. As you breathe, tense and then relax each part of your body in turn until you have gone from your toes to your head.

If you can't sleep because the person you care for wakes you, you may need to get extra help. Talk to the local authority of the person you're looking after, and it will either assess your needs and the needs of the person you're caring for, or look again at any assessments that have been done in the past.

Self-help sleeping tips

These tips may help you improve your sleeping habits:

  • Make your bedroom sleep-friendly. It shouldn't be too hot, cold or noisy.
  • Don't work or have your computer or TV in your bedroom.
  • Take regular exercise. Swimming and walking are ideal. Don't exercise near to bedtime as it may keep you awake.
  • Check your mattress. Ideally it will be firm enough to support you comfortably, but not so firm that you feel perched on top of it.
  • Spend some time relaxing before you go to bed.
  • Keep to a bedtime routine if you can, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
  • If you're worried about something, write it down so you're ready to deal with it the next day.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol. It may help you fall asleep, but it also makes you more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.

A break from caring

Your main obstacle to looking after yourself may well be finding the time to exercise, think about your diet or have some time to yourself. If you're unable to leave the person you care for unattended, you will need to organise some alternative care for them.

Practical arrangements

If you decide to give up caring, you must inform the social services department of the person you look after so that they can provide appropriate support for the person you were looking after. If you receive Carer's Allowance or any other caring-related benefits, you will need to report the change in your circumstances to the Department for Work and Pensions.

Caring for your back

Most of us will suffer back pain at some stage of our lives. However, knowing how to protect your back can help to keep it in good shape.

Staying active is important. Daily activity such as walking, climbing the stairs, cycling to the shops and getting off the bus a stop early, can all help. If you have time to do regular sport, that's even better. Swimming, yoga, Pilates, walking, running and cycling can all help to strengthen your back.

If you haven't exercised for a while or are intending to increase the amount of exercise you do, it might be worth discussing it with your GP first. This is especially important if you have any health problems. If you already have back trouble, do not abandon all activity. Yoga and t'ai chi can help to improve its flexibility.

Emotional problems

It's often easier to ask for help for a physical ailment than it is for an emotional one. Emotional problems can be just as painful as a bad back or a twisted ankle. The stress that emotional problems can cause often has a damaging effect on your body and can eventually lead to physical ill health. Many carers believe that their caring role has affected their health.

Don't keep it to yourself

If you're finding it hard to manage emotionally, try not to suppress your feelings. Talking about your worries can be a tremendous relief. It's important to talk to friends and family. They may not realise how you're feeling or may need you to ask them before they will offer you help.

It's also useful to talk to other carers. These are people who know what you're going through and understand how hard it can be. Often carers have feelings of resentment about the role they've taken on and may then feel guilty about feeling angry. Loneliness and fear are also commonly reported by carers, along with anger and depression.

Where to get help

  • Talk to your friends and family. Let them know how you're managing, what problems you're facing and ask them for their support and help.
  • Get in touch with the SRUK helpline on free phone 0800 311 2756. You will be provided with information on Carer organisations
  • Other carers can be a great source of support. They are familiar with what you're going through and may be able to suggest solutions that have worked for them.
  • Some carers groups have online forums, where you can chat on the internet.
  • Talk to your GP. They may be able to refer you to a counselling service or give you information about local support groups.
  • Your local social services can give you information about local support groups and carers centres. They may also be able to provide a sitting service or break service to give you some time to yourself.
  • If you need someone to talk to, call the Samaritans. The helpline, 08457 909090, is open day Support

Talk to your family and friends as well. Just talking about how you feel can make you feel better. Sharing your feelings and problems with those close to you may mean that they realise that you need more help from them.

Self help

If you're feeling tearful, angry or have other symptoms of stress, there are steps you can take to help reduce your stress levels:

  • Go out of the room, or outside into the fresh air if you can, for at least five minutes.
  • Take a deep breath and hold it for a count of three, then breath out. Repeat again until you feel more relaxed, but not so often that you feel dizzy.
  • Relax your muscles. Tense muscles are a physical sign that you're stressed.
  • Don't drink or smoke too much. Alcohol and cigarettes are harmful to your body and make you more at risk of the physical effects of stress.
  • Caffeine can have similar effects on your body as stress, so keep your coffee and tea intake low.
  • Get active. Physical exercise is a simple way to relieve tension. Even a walk to the shops can help reduce your stress levels.