Being a carer: the hidden emotional burden
Are you one of the seven million people in the UK who cares for a relative or friend? If you are, you may have experienced some of the stresses and strains that such a responsibility can place on you.
One of the main problems affecting carers is social isolation. You may have to turn down invitations due to your caring commitments, then find that, after a while, your friends stop bothering to invite you. This, in turn, may make you feel angry, resentful and rejected. After a while you may start to doubt whether others care about you or even if you are worth caring about. Once you get into this state, it’s easy to start feeling hopeless.
Many people care for a family member and this can change the dynamic in the relationship. Even if you’ve always had a great relationship with a parent, it may feel hard for you to take a more “parental” role in looking after them and may be challenging for them to be the one who’s looked after. Where family relationships have been less good, it may bring up real issues for you as a carer. For example, you may have felt that, as a child, your parents didn’t always listen to you or have time for you; they may even have treated you cruelly or neglected you; it can feel particularly difficult to care for someone if you have not felt cared for yourself by that person.
The specific nature of the cared-for person’s illness or disability will affect you as a carer in different ways. Relatives with physical disabilities may need a lot of help with basic tasks or being lifted, making you feel physically worn out and emotionally as if you need to be on hand 24/7. Being around someone with depression can feel very draining. If a relative has dementia you will be struggling with the pain of losing part of the person you remember, as well dealing with unpredictable moods and behaviours.
Being a carer for one family member may mean lack of time or energy for other relationships within the family. Many people in middle age are simultaneously caring for elderly relatives and young children and feeling guilty about not having enough time for either, let alone themselves.
Finally, taking on caring responsibilities often involves financial stress and uncertainty.
If you are a carer, what can you do to help yourself?
Firstly, try and get all the practical help you can get from social services or local charities; website for organisations such as Carers UK or Carers Trust can provide information about this.
Secondly, tell others how you feel! If you feel forgotten about by a friend or relative, try and reach out to them and explain calmly how you can feel isolated as a carer, and how much you’d value some company and support. Sometimes others may have been avoiding you as they are unsure what help you need or how to relate to you in your new role.
Thirdly, try to make some time for yourself every day… yes I know it’s difficult! Even something as small as a walk round the block, a hot bubble bath, or sitting outside feeling the sun on your face. Ideally, try and get a friend, relative or local organisation to give you some respite care and rather than spending that time catching up with chores, just allow yourself the luxury of being yourself for a little while.
Try to prioritise self-care: eating healthily, doing gentle regular exercise, ensuring your lifestyle promotes healthy sleep etc. Many people find that mindfulness helps, as does writing down feelings.
Finally, counselling can really help provide a place where you can let out your fears, worries, frustrations, confusion and other feelings, in a safe place where you will not be judged. You may need a thinking space to work through a particular issue, or just a place to be heard. You may be in the middle of a difficult situation that you can’t change, but what you can change is how you deal with it, and how you care for yourself.