While caring for a family member or friend can be extremely rewarding, it can also have its difficulties, especially if you’re confined to home. According to Carers Victoria, carers are at risk of experiencing physical and mental health issues, social isolation and financial disadvantage, all as a direct result of their caring role. So the evidence is clear; self-care is essential for all unpaid family carers.
Cares have been described as ‘buttons’ – holding everyone and everything together. And while this may be true, those buttons can be under an awful lot of strain.
While it may not be possible to totally overcome all of these stress-inducing issues, here are some self-care ideas you might consider to minimise the impact and improve your wellbeing – which will have the flow-on effect of also improving the wellbeing of the person you care for.
There isconclusive evidence that a lack of sleep not only erodes our resilience and ability to cope with stressful situations but negatively impacts our physical health as well. Try to establish a routine of going to bed and getting up at about the same time every day. Some smartphones have a function that will remind you when it’s bedtime and prompt you to set your alarm for a ‘usual’ time.
Develop a relaxing pre-sleep ritual (reading, a cup of herbal tea, listening to peaceful music) or check out some of the sleep apps online that simulate the sound of rain or tell long, descriptive stories to get you off to sleep. Avoid napping during the day, caffeine after midday and alcohol.
If your caring duties are having you up several times in the night, call the Australian Carer Gateway on 1800 077 336 or the Carers New Zealand Helpline on 0800 777 797 and ask about overnight, in-home respite.
You might also find this 2019 research report, Reducing Sleep Disruption in Carers interesting.
Caring can be physically demanding, so maintaining strength and fitness is vital for your caring role – and your health. While many of us feel exhausted from caring and would rather put our feet up when we have a break, it’s a Catch 22, as you’ll actually be less tired if you exercise. It can also help you sleep better.
Check out some of the free exercise classes online, including yoga and Pilates, all designed to be done at home without any special equipment. Stay within your ability and gradually build up. It may take a few weeks of persistence, but once you get into the routine and begin to experience the benefits, you’ll be hooked.
Being a healthy body weight makes physical tasks less strenuous. Self-care includes having a healthy diet and staying hydrated with plenty of water. Both will help make you feel more energetic. Although all-day coffee and biscuits may be tempting, they will leave you feeling tired and sluggish. Boost your fibre intake with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains for sustained energy and a regular digestive system. Try and avoid excessively processed foods. They may taste great at the time but are often high in salt, fat and sugar and low in nutritional value – leaving you flat.
- Socialising while at home
Socialising is also a vital aspect of self-care. Don’t let caring and confinement cause social isolation. Caring can be demanding and time-consuming, and in truth, friends don’t always appreciate the enormity of what you’re doing. However, it’s still essential to keep up social connections and focus on things outside of your caring role. These days there are plenty of options for face-to-face interaction while you’re at home. Use Facebook’s Facetime, download Skype or Zoom and organise a video-call with several family and friends at the same time, or just pick up the phone. Virtual meetings, coffees, drinks and catch-ups have become very popular. Just make sure you spend your precious time with people who make you feel good – not those who drain your energy.
Work can provide a sense of self, social interaction and financial reward. If you’re already employed and caring is taking up more of your time, talk to your employer about working from home options. Most employees will be understanding of need to work, care for a loved one and take care of yourself. You can read more on the Carers Gateway page, Working While Caring, which sets out your rights as a working unpaid family carer. In New Zealand, there are some useful links on the Carers New Zealand Work page.
Both the Australian and New Zealand governments havea range of payments available to support carers and the people they care for. Make sure you’re receiving what you’re entitled to. In Australia, head to the Carer Gateway Financial Help page, and in New Zealand, start with the Ministry of Health’s Carer Support.
- Timeout for you
Unlike most jobs, caring can be 24 hours a day, 52 weeks of the year, so it’s important to take time out for you. Even if it’s half an hour reading a book, exploring the internet or doing a puzzle. If you’re looking for a more substantial challenge, there are plenty of online courses to acquire or up-skill employment qualifications, learn a new language or join a virtual book group. Doing things for yourself and finding the time to pursue your own interests is another important way of taking care of yourself.
- Ask for help
Asking for help can be difficult, and yet most people apprecaite the opportunity to lend a hand. If you need help with shopping, a meal or just need someone to have a chat to, ask a friend or neighbour. If you’re finding things particularly difficult, contact your GP or local Carer Association and ask about carer counselling, coaching and support groups. Most of these can now be delivered over the phone or via video conferencing so being at home is no barrier.
For more ideas on how to look after yourself, have a look at these organisations:
- Carers New Zealand
- Carers Victoria or the Carer organisation in your state or territory
- Carer Gateway
- Better Health
- Continence Foundation of Australia
Asaleo Care makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional, medical or other health professional advice.