Caring for the Carer

Being a carer is hard work. Whether you are a member of the public who cares for a friend, relative or somebody else, or a healthcare professional who has made a career out of working in care for a local authority or other professional body, you will work extra hard for those that you care for. Generally speaking, this can mean that you will find that your own needs go to the back of the queue. Being paid a wage doesn't make it any easier when a service user that you care about gets the news that their medical condition has worsened, perhaps terminally, and being someone's son or daughter doesn't help when they have thrown their meal across the room and then burst into tears and can't tell you why.

It can also be easy to feel undervalued. Whether waged or unwaged, the responsibilities of caring can be unrelenting and, if not handled carefully, can result in depression or other forms of illness. And although in an ideal world the person or people that you care for would be happy and grateful for the care that you give and the effort that you put into making their lives easier, it can be more accurate to say that you will be the first in line of fire if they need to make more negative feelings felt.

So in most cases the carer has to work out how to care for themselves as well as the person or people that they care for. Try to follow these five rules:-

  • Share and share alike:- make good use of any backup available to you to let people know how you feel if things aren't going well, and don't be afraid to ask for backup or for somebody else to share the load. If you work as part of a professional team your manager will be able to organise this, if you care on your own then make use of friends, family or your local carer's network (see web link below) to give you a break, even for an hour or two. If you are dealing with too much on your own, then share the load around. Nobody needs you to be a superhero.
  • Take time out:- ten minutes, half an hour, a long lunch. Take a coffee break, sit out in a park, if you can't physically leave the area that you care in then make a hot drink and absent yourself mentally for five minutes. Think about your favourite place to be - by the sea or out in the garden - and imagine that you are there. This seems an odd exercise but it does only take a minute or to and can actually work quite well, leaving you feeling refreshed and able to tackle the next task.
  • Eat Well:- nutrition is key to staying well, especially when you have a solid carer workload. Don't bulk up on sweet snacks and caffeine, the rush of energy that they give will be short lived and leave you feeling worse than ever. Try keeping a food diary if you are prone to energy ups and downs that make your carers workload harder than ever, check to see if there is any link between the bad times and what you have eaten just before they happen. Make sure that you are getting your five a day.
  • Sometimes, Just Don't Listen :- "Well its not like a real job, is it?"; "I'd love to be at home all day, I don't know what you find to do"; "I know I said that I'd help you out but its not convenient this week - or next week - erm, or the week after that....." There are those people, and we are sure that you know at least one of them, who are not worth your earwax. Avoid vexatious people. And if you can't avoid them, tune them out. Anyone who wants to pass an opinion on the workload of the carer should try carrying it on their own shoulders for a day. Most of them wouldn't last two minutes.
  • Reward Yourself :- bubble bath with scented candles? Sitting out in the garden? Dancing around to flamenco music? Do it. And if all else fails, write yourself a nice letter praising how well you are handling things and what a good job you do. Because you are brilliant, you know. Absolutely brilliant.