“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” ~ Eleanor Brown
When you became a carer you probably had other commitments, and maybe a job, school, university or parenting. You may have inherited the role with little or no warning or seen it coming for a while.
In 2015 there were 2.8 million unpaid carers in Australia. The majority of these were women. Approximately 300,000 were under the age of 26, and a further breakdown reveals over 25% were under the age of 15.
The person you are caring for could be a child with physical or cognitive disabilities, a parent or partner with Alzheimer’s, a sibling or child with a brain injury, or a friend who has suffered a stroke.
The task of maintaining a positive attitude can be very difficult with a demanding workload, often a lack of sleep, and very little recognition. You may feel drained both physically and emotionally. The risk is that you might stop taking care of your own needs - healthy food, rest, exercise, and recreation.
SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU MIGHT BE FACING
Grief - When you took on your role you experienced some significant losses in your own life. Losses that don’t have a definite starting or finishing point. These might include:
♦ Social life and friendships
♦ Freedom – Life might lack the spontaneity it once had for you. And opportunities in career and education are less easily taken advantage of
♦ Sense of identity – as the focus is on the recipient of your care
♦ Financial security might be affected as your employment options change.
♦ Your expectations for both yours and your loved one might go unfulfilled, or the relationship with your loved one may have changed
Health - Research conducted by Carers Australia found carers had the lowest wellbeing of any large group in Australia.
♦ Physical health - Chronic tiredness, broken sleep and a lack of time for yourself, can increase your risk of illness. You may also be struggling to find the time to exercise or organise healthy food. And if your role requires the physical demands of lifting or carrying then you are more likely to have other physical problems.
♦ Emotional health – You may have had no choice about becoming a carer or have given up parts of your own life. This can generate some strong emotions, like anger and frustratration. You might find yourself taking this out on the person you care for and other people in your world. This can lead to feelings of guilt.
Depression is another strong emotion you may struggle with as a carer. This can lead to unhelpful coping methods such as drugs or alcohol and eating issues. If you are experiencing significant levels of hopelessness you may have thoughts of self-harm or even suicide.
Social Isolation – The demands on you as a carer can impact on your time with friends and family. It can also be difficult to prioritise opportunities associated with work and recreation. This can quietly erode your connections with others, and even your confidence socially.
Money worries – You might be struggling financially as research shows 50% of carers are on low incomes. The basics might be difficult to cover let alone the extra costs related to healthcare, travel, medications etc.
YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!
Why? – Because you are irreplaceable.
Consider for a moment the advice you are given when you fly on a plane. The flight attendant instructs you to “put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others”. Self-care is you putting on your oxygen mask first.
SO LETS HAVE A LOOK AT HOW YOU CAN DO THIS:
Talk about how you are feeling with someone you trust – As a carer you need to have someone to talk to. Because if your symptoms of grief are not acknowledged they will build up and express themselves as feelings of sadness, anger, resentment, and physical issues such as changes in sleeping and eating. If you haven't got someone to share with then begin to identify who you can talk to. Get involved in a support group, open up to family, friends and service providers you feel comfortable with.
Plan timeout – Breaks are an inherent part of the Australian working culture, because we know that people are more efficient and happier when they have timeout. You may have got used to pushing through the exhaustion, but this is not a useful long term strategy. Remember the person you are caring for can also benefit with the opportunity to socialise and have some independence.
Note: If you haven't been prioritising your self-care you may meet with resistance. So seek help if you are struggling to create new boundaries around timeout!.
♦ Have a bath
♦ Read a magazine in the park
♦ Sit at the beach
♦ Catch-up with friends
♦ Try something new, like yoga
♦ Take a holiday
What do you find restores your energy and clears your head?
Don’t wait until someone to notices you need help. Ask family or friends or organise respite care if possible.
Look after your health – This will require planning.
♦ Eat well – You need to be eating healthy food regularly. Plan a way that works for you. Maybe you can cook larger portions and freeze meals for later.
♦ Sleep – What can you change to get enough sleep? There are some common practices you can do if you are having trouble getting to sleep. Like having a routine, turning off all media an hour before sleep, and reading before bed. Try one of the herbal teas to help you relax, and pure lavender oil essence on your pillow is a wonderful way to float off to sleep.
If it is unrealistic to plan for 8 hours of sleep then consider planning two four hour sleeps across you 24 hour day.
♦ Exercise – How can you organise some regular exercise into your daily schedule? It might be a short walk – fresh air, exercise and sun can do wonders. You could use an exercise video or attend a class. Or put on your favourite music to dance to when no one is watching :-)
♦ Learn how to relax – You will benefit by learning mindfulness. This has been found to both calm emotionally charged neural pathways and help develop new ones. There are many ways you can practice mindfulness, not necessarily sitting in the yogi pose! Mindfulness is even achieved through focused movement such as Yoga, Tai Chi and Gigong.
Get as organised as realistically possible – If you feel in control you are less likely to be affected by stress and anxiety. It will make it easier for someone to take over when you need a break too. For example:
♦ Keep a calendar of daily routines
♦ Keep important information such as scripts and emergency details in one place
♦ Have a list of what is required for when a support person steps in
We have covered the risk to your health, and the why and how you can take better care of yourself. But as you know this is a long distant run and not a sprint, so I encourage to remain vigilant about your own needs. The best way to do this is by staying connected - in particular ensuring you have people you can speak openly with.
If you have been struggling for a while you may need extra support to implement a self-care strategy. If this is you then please call me for a Free 15 minute consultation. We can talk about what is going on for you and I can answer any questions you might have. If I am with a client I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Did you enjoy this blog post? Then add yourself to my list.