If you care for a friend or relative with a terminal illness, you may spend a lot of your time focusing on their physical and mental health needs. It can be difficult to spend the same time and energy looking after your own mental health.
Supporting someone else can affect your mental health and make it harder to stay well. This in turn will make it harder to care for your friend or relative. Take a look at our advice for looking after your mental health as a carer.
Recognise your feelings
When caring for someone else, it can often feel like your own emotions and worries are less important than those of the person you are caring for. Taking the time to recognise your feelings will enable you to find ways of working through them and thus ensure that you are providing good care for yourself, as well as your friend or relative.
You may be feeling:
- stressed and worried about the person you are caring for. You might spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of their illness and what will happen in the future.
- anxious about the person you are caring for or about your ability to care for them.
- that you have little or no time for yourself. You may feel that you have less time to eat, relax and take part in activities that you enjoy.
- lonely as you might not have the opportunity to spend time with others or engage in hobbies and interests.
- depressed due to the challenges you face caring for your relative or friend.
- resentful or angry towards the person you are caring for as you have had to make significant changes in your own life to allow you to care for them. You may also feel angry about their condition and frustrated at the unfairness of their illness.
What can I do to look after myself?
Taking time for yourself to resolve what you are feeling is essential for your own mental health. Carers sometimes feel guilty when taking time away from the person that they are caring for but it is essential to look after yourself in order to look after someone else. Here are some suggestions for managing your feelings and developing coping strategies as a carer.
Talk about how you feel
As a carer, you will spend a lot of time with the friend or relative that you are caring for. Having someone outside of this relationship that you can talk to can be really helpful. You could:
- share your feelings with someone you trust, for example a different family member or friend.
- join a support group for carers.
- contact the Carers UK helpline.
- find an online support group, for example the Carers UK forum or Carers Trust online community.
Ask for help when you need it
Most carers need additional support and this can be available from different places. Reach out to your friends and family to see if they can help; often people don’t know how to help but are happy to lend a hand when you tell them what you need.
Your employer may also be able to help; you have the right to ask for flexible working hours if you have caring responsibilities.
Check with your local hospice to find out what support they can provide, which may include support groups and drop-in sessions for you and the person you are caring for. You can see what services Hospiscare offers for carers here and if you live in Devon, support is available from Devon Carers.
Accept your limits
If you take on too much, you may feel that you are never able to achieve anything. Set expectations of what you can do and what you will need help with in order to feel more able to cope. You could try:
- making a list of the support needs of the person you are caring for. You can then decide who or what may help you to achieve these needs.
- planning in breaks and respite so that support can be put in place for the person you are caring for.
Creating a schedule or planner can help you feel more in control. This will enable you to keep important information and medication in one place and will make it easier if anyone needs to take over your friend or relative’s care for any period of time.
Support your friend or relative’s independence
When caring for a friend or relative, it can feel easier and safer to try and do as much for them as possible. Giving your friend or relative some control over their care will not only help their wellbeing but yours too. You may find that taking a step back and supporting decisions, rather than making decisions, can help you both find a balance in your relationship and allow you a little more time for yourself.
Look for the positives in your relationship
Caring for a friend or relative can have a big impact on your relationship with them. Sometimes you may feel close and connected but at other times you may feel angry, irritated and resentful. It can help to talk honestly and openly with them to find ways of coping together. You could also try to:
- think of yourself as their friend, partner or family member first and foremost.
- do activities and hobbies together as well as the day-to-day responsibilities.
Take a break and have some ‘me time’
It may not always be possible to take a break every time you need one but it is vital that you have some time that is yours. Take a look at the Carers Trust website to find out what help is available.
Make sure that your breaks centre around your self-care needs; go for a walk, take a bath, do a class at the gym, have your hair done; this time needs to be about you. Try turning your phone off for an agreed amount of time and focus your break around the things you enjoy.
If possible, try to plan regular breaks into your routine or schedule. This will enable you to make plans in advance, both for the person you are caring for and yourself. Planning in breaks will also give you something to look forward to and allows the person you are caring for to know what to expect.
Learn a relaxation technique
Relaxation techniques can help you feel more rested. Many relaxation techniques can be done in your home or the home of the person you are caring for and take just a few minutes. They are also helpful to do just before going to bed. Mind have a range of techniques and exercises on their website or you could look at joining a yoga or Pilates class in your area.
Look after your physical health
As a carer, you will know the positive impact of healthy eating and physical activity on the person you are caring for. By building these into your friend or relative’s everyday routine, these can also become part of your own self-care routine.
Eating regularly will ensure that you don’t suffer a drop in your blood sugar which can lead to feelings of fatigue and irritation. Slow-release energy foods such as pasta, rice, oats, wholegrain bread and cereals, nuts and seeds are perfect to include in your diet.
Eating breakfast will set you up for the day ahead and eating small portions throughout the day may be easier to fit into your caring duties and will keep your energy up. You can read further tips on choosing food to boost your mood here.
Physical activity also plays an important part in both your physical and mental wellbeing, acting as a great outlet for stress as well as an opportunity to engage with others by joining groups and clubs. For advice on fitting physical activity into your schedule, take a look at the NHS website.