Being a carer can be rewarding, but it can also be emotionally and physically challenging. You’re probably used to taking on a lot, and it’s easy to put your own needs last.
However, one of the most important things you can do for yourself and the person you care for is to prioritise your own self-care. If you don’t look after yourself, you won’t be in the best condition to care for others.
Here we look at why carers need self-care strategies and provide some ideas for self-care that you can try yourself.
Why carers need self-care strategies
There are over 2.65 million carers in Australia, and each person plays a vital role for the people they care for. As a carer, you might be that person’s child, parent, relative or friend. The person you care for might be frail due to age, have a medical condition, have a disability or a mental health condition.
The way you care for that person may vary. You might not care for them every day, or you may be their only carer. You might help with all day-to-day tasks or be available when they can’t do things themselves. Every care situation is unique.
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘Put the oxygen mask on yourself before attending to the needs of others’ during the safety briefing on an airline. This means you can’t help others if you’re not well yourself.
What are some self-care strategies for carers?
To avoid carer burnout, it’s important to take some time for yourself. Here are some self-care strategies for carers.
1. Get enough sleep
A research paper commissioned by Carers Australia stated that up to 75% of carers have reported poor sleep.
If getting to sleep and/or staying asleep is a problem, you could try limiting caffeine and alcohol, having a warm bath and having a consistent bedtime routine. You can also try a mindfulness or relaxation technique to help calm your mind before you go to sleep – gently observing your breathing is an easy way to start.
2. Eat well and get enough exercise
It’s important that you try to integrate good food and exercise into your routine.
It can be hard to maintain a healthy diet if you’re busy, tired or stressed. Better Health Victoria has tips and advice on how to eat healthily, including healthy eating on a budget.
Try to schedule some time to exercise into your week such as a morning walk or going on a bike ride with a friend. Find an exercise you enjoy and can physically manage.
3. Do something every day for yourself
Try to take regular breaks throughout the day. Make a list of things you enjoy, such as watching a favourite TV program, reading a book, or spending time outside. Make sure you do at least one of these things each day.
4. See your friends
When your life revolves around caring, it’s easy to go months without seeing your friends. Try to book in regular outings or phone calls with friends and maintain your social connection.
5. Learn stress management techniques
When things are feeling overwhelming, it’s helpful to stop and take a few deep breaths. Relax your shoulders and breathe in through your nose for five seconds, then out of your mouth for five seconds. Do this a few times until you’re feeling less stressed.
6. Talk to people who understand
It’s helpful to connect with people who understand what you’re going through and can provide support and advice based on similar experiences. Carer Gateway has several online and in person peer support groups.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you don’t have time for self care, it might be time to ask for help. You could talk to your family members or friends about some ways to share the load so you don’t have to take on the entire caring role yourself. Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for respite care.
Our CAREinMIND counsellors are available 24/7 on 1300 096 269 or click the floating chat button on the right. The service is free for people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.