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Taking care of yourself whilst caring

6.5 million of us care for a friend or family member with an illness or disability. But are you taking care of yourself too?

Clare Gibson is a sibling carer and provides training sessions at the Carers Support Centre. Here are her top tips to help you take care of yourself whilst you're caring for someone else.

Caring is hard work!

“Definition of carer: Likely to be appointed at short notice, probably overnight and will be required to fulfil some or all of the following criteria:

1. Have the ability and stamina to work continual long hours.
2. Be available for work up to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
3. Be required to carry out tasks that in other environments would require at least two people to undertake.
4. Be able to cope with high levels of stress.
5. Receive little or no income for carrying out the role.
6. Have a vastly diminished social life.
7. Work in isolation, with little recognition from the outside world.
8. Communicate effectively with a wide range of professionals, including social workers, doctors and other healthcare professionals.”

The above job description from Carers Week sums up what it means to be a carer. Make no bones about it - caring is a job that needs to be treated with the respect it deserves. Carers work hard and they will need care and support themselves in order to carry on caring. A little support, acknowledgement and a listening ear from others go a long way.

woman asleep on a desk

Managing sleep

Many carers just accept that sleep deprivation is just part of the job. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. There are simple techniques that can really work and make positive change. Anything from keeping a sleep diary to relaxation methods, massaging acupuncture pressure points, improving diet, removing blue screens before bed and understanding the biology of sleep can all help.

Reducing stress

Stress is a massive factor in caring. Carers often struggle to see the amount of things they are dealing with and the impact it has on their health.

In my training, I use a stress test with carers from Anxiety UK which gives a list of likely indicators of stress. This can be used to start a conversation about stress with health professionals. It is also help you plot your stress over time and recognise when your stress levels have improved.

Techniques like mindfulness and exercise can reduce stress and promote relaxation. As a carer, it is important that you recognise your own symptoms and limits – knowing when you need to take a break and letting someone else step in can make all the difference.

Top tips for self care

Self-care is vital and much of the work of the Carers Support Centre is about working with carers to help improve wellbeing and self-esteem. If you are caring for someone, here are a few top tips to help look after your wellbeing:

1) Ask for help – go to your GP or talk to someone at the Carers Support Centre. It may feel difficult to make this step, but if you were struggling at work with your job, you might make a visit to HR or personnel department. Caring is a job. Please get support.

2) Recognise your symptoms – keep a diary and jot things down, then take this with you when you see a health professional.

3) Think about your diet – the wrong nutrition can place further stress on your body. Try foods help you sleep and deal with stress better; foods that aid sleep include yogurt, milk, oats, bananas, poultry, eggs, peanuts and tuna as they all contain good amounts of tryptophan. Eating protein for breakfast can also really help balance blood sugar and support the body to deal with stress.

4) Soak your feet in hot water before bed, preferably with relaxing oils or a teaspoon of mustard seeds. If you can’t sleep, get up - don’t toss and turn and lie there feeling stressed. You can also try a relaxation CD or any of the online sleep apps.

5) See what’s on offer at the Carers Support Centre - there are a range of wellbeing activities advertised in Carers News. Even a cuppa in the Carers Café and a chat with someone else can make a huge difference. Do something for you at least once a week!

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