How to look after yourself when caring for someone else

It can be easy to neglect your own needs when you’re focused on caring for another, but here are five tips that could help

Receiving and living with a physical or mental health diagnosis can be a massive challenge. Not just for the person with the diagnosis, but for those closest to them, too. Often, a diagnosis is accompanied by complications that affect whole families – additional health conditions, responsibilities, finances, or navigating clinic appointments, and benefit systems.

As a carer, it is common to experience a range of emotions. Some days you feel like you’re on top of everything, and others can feel out of control, as though you’re constantly in crisis mode. Whatever you feel, it’s crucial to remember that your emotions matter, even the ones that might be difficult to admit to yourself or others. Taking time to understand those emotions will help them become more manageable.

Every caring role is different, and with each one comes a different set of needs, feelings, and responsibilities – this is by no means an exhaustive list. There is no magic pill to making caring for someone you love manageable, but I hope some of these tips lead you to think about the support and care you need for yourself, as well as your loved one.

1. Connect with other carers

Talking with people outside your family, or network of friends, can be incredibly helpful. Sharing tips, expressing your worries, getting advice, or being in the company of people who ‘just get it’, can make a huge difference.

Find groups online and in person. Many charities provide practical support, such as advice on benefits, and have Facebook groups or peer-led meetups. Take the time to ‘find your tribe’ – they are often just a Google search away.

2. Speak to a professional

Allowing yourself 50 minutes a week to reflect on how you feel is a big act of self-care. Some local carers services offer counselling, or your GP will be able to refer you to free NHS counselling. As a result of Covid-19, many therapists offer video call therapy if you’re unable to travel. This can be convenient when dividing up your time and responsibilities.

Research depression and anxiety so you can spot the warning signs. The NHS has an online anxiety and depression self-assessment quiz that could be a good starting point.

3. Get to know your clinicians

Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are all experts, and can be incredible allies. When supporting a loved one with their travel, appointments, and medical needs, it can be easy to forget all the information required. Keep a list of questions for healthcare professionals so that when your appointment comes around, you can get the most from them.

4. Activities and distractions

It might feel like the last thing you want to do, but being active can relieve stress, and is very therapeutic. Even 30 minutes outdoors, exercising, or being mentally active (doing puzzles, or working on hobbies) each day, can make a big difference.

On top of this, distractions can be helpful as well. Give yourself permission to indulge in a box set, watch films, or switch off for a bit. Don’t feel guilty for not being productive; our brains need downtime in order to process information and emotions properly.

“Don’t feel guilty for not being productive; our brains need downtime in order to process information and emotions properly”

5. Plan for emergencies

Create a care plan with your loved one for emergencies so that, if you can’t respond immediately, the person you are caring for can still get the help they need at a critical time. Give a copy of this plan to family, friends, and healthcare professionals working with you. Carers UK has a helpful section on how to make an emergency plan.

It can be easy to get lost in caring for someone else. We often tell ourselves to be strong, and that our emotions don’t matter compared to the person we are caring for. But remember, your needs do matter.

It’s an old cliché, but like on a plane when they tell you in case of an emergency to put on your own oxygen mask first, you really do need to look after yourself in order to continue to care for your loved one.

To connect with a counsellor like Jeremy to discuss managing your own mental health when caring for someone else, visit counselling-directory.org.uk