Caring for carers
“The oxygen masks drop down from the panel above and you should secure your own before helping anyone else.”
This familiar message heard on planes around the world is of importance to every one of the UK’s estimated 6.4 million carers. They find it all too easy to focus on the patient and forget the all-important self-care. Often in addition to poor health, loss of earnings and loss of social life, they find themselves feeling guilty because:
- "If I don't do it, no one else will."
- "I promised my father/mother I would take care of them."
- "I don't want them going into a home."
If you are a carer, you may put yourself second when it comes to care. Yet it is important to realise that if you do not look after yourself, your physical and mental health can suffer. Having good mental and physical health will help in your caring role and can make a big difference in the quality of support you can offer to your loved one.
Being a carer can leave you feel isolated, stressed, frustrated, alone and physically and mentally exhausted. It is important to think about the help and the ways in which you can get help:
- Get support for your emotional health. This can be as simple as talking over your feelings with friends and family. It can be talking to a counsellor, or it might be taking part in a carers support group. There are also online discussion boards and forums so that you can feel less isolated.
- Taking exercise, getting out even if only for a short time helps to feel more energetic and revitalised and provides you with energy.
- Do not be afraid to use support services like charities, the NHS and your GP when you need help. You are concentrating on your relationship with the person, not in the care. Often people think only of respite in relation to NHS and other services but by contacting them they can offer a range of supports. They can help look at your needs and get you the support you need through a carer's assessment.
Finally, it is important to realise that it is as important for you look after yourself as the person for whom you are caring. It is important to value yourself, to notice that keeping yourself healthy will ultimately benefit your loved one and will enable you to have the energy and strength to have the best possible relationship. So take the time and accept the help to look after yourself as a carer.
(This article is written with the process in the NHS in Scotland in Mind. Other areas of the UK may have different processes you can contact your GP for help).
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