Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver. Make sure you’re eating healthy, being active, and taking time for yourself. Being a carer can be rewarding, although it can also be incredibly challenging, and has been found to compromise health. To help you look after your own health while caring for someone else, we have compiled a few tips: self-care for carers.
In 2015 there were 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia. Whether you work as a caregiver in your professional role, or are caring for a loved one, it’s important to make time for yourself to recharge your batteries. Caregiver burnout is real, don’t try to take it on alone. There are support systems in place to assist you, from the family and friends to community resources and government assistance.
If you’re a caregiver, there are some common signs and symptoms to help you identify burnout and take steps to avoid it:
Common signs and symptoms of caregiver stress:
- Anxiety, depression, irritability.
- Feeling tired and run down.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Overreacting to minor nuisances.
- New or worsening health problems.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Feeling increasingly resentful.
- Drinking, smoking, or eating more.
- Neglecting responsibilities.
- Cutting back on leisure activities.
Common signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout:
- You have much less energy than you once had.
- It seems that you catch every cold or bout of flu that’s going around.
- You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break.
- You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore.
- Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction.
- You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available.
- You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for.
- You feel helpless and hopeless.
Regain balance in your life by caring for yourself. If you’re burnt out, it can be difficult to accomplish things for yourself, let alone care of someone else. Restore hope and joy in your life by using support to give yourself a break and take time to recharge.
Every caring situation is different, from the tasks to the time spent, each carer has varying responsibilities. The common thread among all carers, is that they need caring for too. Here are a few tips on self-care for carers to avoid caregiver burnout:
1. Don’t be afraid of asking for help
Start a dialogue, don’t wait for people to guess how you’re feeling or what you need. Speak up and reach out to your friends, family, and wider community. Help for a caregiver can come in many forms. Don’t try to do it all on your own, or you will be on a sure path to caregiver burnout. It’s important that you speak up about what’s going on with you and the person you’re caring for, so others can be aware.
Consider respite care
Organise for family and friends who live nearby to help you by running errands or bringing around a home cooked meal every now and then so you can take a break. You can also take advantage of in-home services or explore out-of-home respite programs or centres.
Spread the responsibility
Try to spread the responsibility among family members, trying to get as many family members as possible involved.
There are common tasks caregivers do that you can ask for help with:
- Buy groceries, cook, clean house, do laundry, provide transportation.
- Help the care receiver get dressed, take a shower, take medicine.
- Transfer someone out of bed/chair, help with physical therapy, perform medical interventions—injections, feeding tubes, wound treatment, breathing treatments.
- Arrange medical appointments, drive to the doctor, sit in during appointments, monitor medications.
- Talk with doctors, nurses, care managers, and others to understand what needs to be done.
- Spend time handling crises and arranging for assistance—especially for someone who cannot be left alone.
- Handle finances and other legal matters.
- Be a companion.
- Be a (usually) unpaid aide, on call 24/7.
It’s easy to see how this can lead to stress and eventuate into caregiver burnout. To avoid this, make sure you implement this advice as soon as possible, spreading responsibility, using available resources and speaking up to allow you to have a well-deserved break. Be aware that some of these tasks can only be done by qualified people, medical interventions should not be passed to untrained volunteers. Use their help to free you up to do the jobs that require your expertise.
Say ‘yes’ when someone offers their help
While you may think it’s impolite or that you’re admitting defeat by accepting help, you will quickly learn to take help where it is offered. If you don’t accept help, you will find yourself on the way to caregiver burnout. The people offering their help will feel good about supporting you, and you will feel better, having their support. Prepare a list of small tasks that others could easily complete, such as grocery shopping or transportation.
2. Spend Time with Friends
Spending time with supportive friends can make all the difference. Many caregivers withdraw from friends and family, resulting in feelings of isolation. It’s important for your wellbeing that you maintain social connections so that you don’t feel alone, as this will lead to caregiver burnout. If it’s too difficult to organise time face-to-face, schedule a regular check-in phone call with a friend. This will allow you to maintain a social connection and improve your wellbeing.
3. Join a Support Group
Sometimes you want to talk to people who understand what you’re going through, to share your stories, your challenges, and tips on how to handle situations. You can find support groups online or in person. There are a range of Newcastle based carer support groups, including:
- ConnectAbility Counselling
- My Family Forever
- One Door
- ARAFMI Hunter
4. Take Breaks Each Day
While caring can sometimes mean being on call 24/7, it’s important that you allow yourself to take breaks every day. If this is not possible, you should look serious into respite care, or in-home/out-of-home support services. While you may want to be the one providing care, it’s important to share responsibility and to use the help and resources available to avoid caregiver burnout. There is only so much you can do, without sacrificing your own health and wellbeing. A break could be enjoying a coffee or meal, reading your favourite book, taking a walk, spending time with friends, or practicing mindfulness.
5. Make Time for Your Hobbies
Caring for someone can be chaotic and busy. Which makes it hard to prioritise your own health and pursuing your own hobbies and interests. While you may think you’re being selfish for wanting to pursue these hobbies, it’s vital to prevent caregiver burnout. Sometimes a carer can be so focused on caring for someone else that they have little time to reflect on the impact it’s having on their own life. It’s important to continue engaging in your hobbies and interests to retain your sense of self and improve your wellbeing.
Support from ConnectAbility Australia
ConnectAbility Australia has a range of support services available in Newcastle and the Central Coast. We offer disability support services, including NDIS Case Coordination. We also offer aged care support services, from home care packages and domestic assistance to aged care advisory services. ConnectAbility Australia also offers Supported Independent Living. Give us a call to discuss your needs and how we can help you.
Carers may also be eligible for:
Counselling & Support: