Research from Age UK revealed that our growing number of unpaid carers is saving the government £23 billion a year.
But the people carrying out this care are actually some of society’s oldest (80 years old and over). In fact, 71% have long-term health conditions of their own.
“I have only one hand, arthritis of the spine, nodules on the nerve canals in my spine and I’ve suffered from two strokes. I don’t have time to think about me,” said Len, 84, full-time carer for his wife.
Undoubtedly, caring is a full-time job. And, consequently, it can become hard to find the energy to look after yourself as well. But in this role, self-care isn’t just important for you, if you’re not at your best, it’s impossible to provide the best level of care for someone else too.
With that in mind, here are 4 ways to look after yourself as a carer:
Keep an eye on your stress levels
You might feel like you’re coping. But whether you’re conscious of it or not, caring for someone else’s every need is stressful.
And stress can manifest itself in a number of ways – both physically and mentally. As carers, it’s not always easy to stay on top of this – even when the warning signs are there. Remember, if you’re overworked it’s going to be difficult to provide the quality of care that somebody needs. So try and listen to your body. We’ve written more tips on beating everyday stress here.
Clare Gibson, a sibling carer and trainer at the Carers Support Centre, uses a test from Anxiety UK to monitor her stress levels. She also uses mindfulness and exercise to help her de-stress and relax. Clare’s written more about self-care for carers here.
Try to get enough sleep
As a carer, this isn’t always easy. You spend your days worrying about someone else and, invariably, these thoughts can sometimes creep into the night. However, there are steps you can take to give yourself the best chance of drifting off. Try following this simple routine:
- Make sure your room is tidy, dark, quiet and cool. According to Sleep.org, the ideal temperature is between 15°C – 19°C.
- If you’re going to settle down on the sofa with a hot drink, try camomile tea. It’s caffeine-free and will also help reduce those nagging feelings of anxiety. Just don’t drink anything too close to bedtime (you don’t want to be up in the middle of the night).
- Switch off all screens two hours before bed. Swap the TV for music or a good book and the put that mobile on charge (and out of reach).
- Unwind further by relaxing your muscles in a warm bath. When you get out, put a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow to prepare for slumber.
If you’re still concerned about your sleep, start keeping a sleep diary. You can then present this to your GP who can recommend the appropriate action. We’ve written more about how to get a restful night’s sleep here.
Reach out to other carers
Sometimes it’s reassuring to speak to someone who knows exactly what you’re going through. But when you’re flat out looking after someone’s every need, finding the time to do so can be tough. With that in mind, here’s a handy list of online forums where carers can chat and support each other remotely:
- Carers FIRST’s Carer forum: open 24/7, this support service is available to all carers who are aged 18 and over.
- Carers UK online forum: this is a comprehensive hub from the UK’s membership charity for carers.
- Gransnet’s Care and Carers forum: older carers can find like-minded individuals to share their experiences with here.
- Carers.org: has more information about where you can speak to other carers online.
Get a carer’s assessment
Did you know that if you’re caring for someone and this isn’t part of your job, you may be entitled to a little help?
The adult social services department of your local council can carry out a carer’s assessment to see if you’re eligible for support. Before you get in touch, think about the following:
- Is your sleep being affected?
- Is your health being affected?
- Are you caring for them at night?
- Do you feel like you are not getting enough time for yourself?
- When you go out, are you still worrying about the person you care for?
- Are any of your other relationships being affected?
- Is your work being affected?
- Do you need information about what support or benefits are available?
- Do you need any training? e.g. in handling the person that you’re caring for?
As a carer, it’s important to lean on the people and services around you. With that in mind, find and contact your local care and carer services for advice and support. What’s more, let the GP know about your situation and they’ll keep a record of this on their notes.
Looking for more support? Telecare services can give some well-needed peace of mind to take a break. For more information about how a personal alarm could help, get in touch.