Looking after yourself

7 minute read
 

As a carer, you’ll often put the needs of the person you care for before your own needs. It’s OK to look after yourself too.

In fact, it’s very important that you look after your own mental and physical health. When you are physically and mentally healthy, you can provide better care. You can also keep caring for longer.

It’s also important that you look after yourself every day. It can be easy to keep pushing yourself until you can’t push yourself anymore. You might become ill or be too stressed to continue care. Taking care of yourself every day and taking regular breaks can stop this from happening.

You can get support through our phone counselling or online carer forum.

Mental health

Taking care of someone can be stressful, and sometimes you might feel anxious, angry, frustrated, resentful or sad. It’s important that you find ways to manage your stress and stay mentally healthy.

If you feel very stressed and want urgent help or advice, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.

You can use many ways to manage stress and reduce your stress at any time.

Talk with someone

Talking with someone and getting advice can help you to relieve and manage stress. You can talk with professional counsellors, other carers, or friends.

Get counselling

A professional counsellor can talk through your worries and help you to manage stress. You can contact our free phone counselling service to talk with someone.

You can also find local services to get counselling at your home or at a private clinic. You may be able to get a mental health care plan, which will pay for up to 10 appointments with mental health services through Medicare.

You can also visit:

Join a carer support group

It can be good to talk with people who have shared similar experiences. You can join our forum to talk with other carers online.

You can also join a group in your community. Groups are usually free and meet in a member’s house or public place, such as a community hall or hospital. Carers Australia can tell you about your local groups. You can join a general support group for all carers. You can also join a group for your situation, such as for:

  • young carers
  • parents or grandparents
  • your language or cultural background
  • particular conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease

Use relaxation and mindfulness techniques

Relaxation and mindfulness techniques have been shown to help with preventing and managing stress:

  • Practise relaxation techniques – meditation or breathing techniques can help with stress or poor sleep. You can learn relaxation techniques from an instructor or course, or apps such as Smiling Mind or those available from ReachOut.
  • Practising mindfulness – mindfulness is about focusing on what’s going on right now rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future. This can help you to enjoy day-to-day pleasures and reduce stress. You can learn mindfulness from an instructor or course, or organisations such as the Black Dog Institute have tips on mindfulness.

Think of your needs

It’s important for you to take a break and keep up social activities – taking time for yourself and connecting with other people is important to keep mentally healthy.

It’s also important for you to stay physically healthy, because being physically healthy can help to keep you mentally healthy.

You should also make sure that you ask for help when you need it. You can talk with your family and friends about what you need and what help they could provide. You can also talk with Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737 about what services and support you can get.

Getting help with stress

If you think that you are becoming anxious or depressed, you can use the Healthdirect Symptom checker or the MindSpot Clinic to see how you are going.

Our self-guided coaching can help you to learn how to deal with stress, and This Way Up and the MindSpot Clinic also run online courses on many topics such as stress, anxiety and depression.

If you want to know more about how to deal with stress, visit Healthdirect, beyondblue, the Black Dog Institute, or Head to Health. Your doctor may also be able to tell you about ways to help manage stress.

Physical health

To stay physically healthy, it’s a good idea to follow a few simple do’s and don'ts.

Do

  • Eat well – eat a wide variety of foods, including fruit, vegetables, grains, meats or other proteins, and milk or other dairy products. You should also limit how much salt, sugar and fats you eat. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating has tips on how to choose foods for good health
  • Sleep well – most adults need 7–9 hours of sleep each day, but carers can find this hard to get. The HealthDirect website has tips on how to get more sleep, and your doctor can also give you some advice
  • Exercise – there are many ways to exercise, from taking a regular walk to joining a gym. Some exercise every day is good, even if it is just taking the stairs instead of the lift, or standing instead of sitting down. The HealthDirect website has tips on how to get active

Don’t

  • Smoke – if you’re a smoker, one of the best things you can do for your health is quit. The Quit Now website has tips and tools to help you quit, or you can call the Quitline on 13 78 48
  • Drink too much or take drugs – alcohol and drugs can affect your physical and mental health, and can make it hard for you to give good care. Healthy adults should drink no more than 2 drinks a day. The Australian Government Department of Health website has information on how to manage your drinking

Different stages in your caring role

Many carers find that they go through different ‘stages’ during their caring role. It’s useful to understand that these stages are normal, and you can get help at every stage.

It’s also useful to realise that you may go through some stages several times. Every caring situation is different.

Noticing changes

You may start your caring role by noticing something wrong with someone close to you. The changes may be physical or mental. You may notice changes happening quickly or over a long time. It might take some time to find out what’s wrong.

If you are at this stage, you can:

  • talk with family and friends about what you have noticed
  • talk with your doctor about what you have noticed
  • look for information online about symptoms and possible diagnoses

Confirmation

You may start your caring role when you receive a diagnosis from a health professional. You may need to make decisions about treatment and care. It’s a good idea to find out as much as you can about the condition and what you can expect.

If you are at this stage, you can:

  • talk with your doctor about what you can expect and what treatment they recommend
  • talk with family and friends and start planning care
  • look for information online about the condition and possible treatments

Surviving

Once you know about the condition of the person you care for, you start a routine of treatment and care. You work out what they need in health care and personal care, and you contact health professionals who might help you.

If you are at this stage, you can:

  • talk with Carer Gateway about what support you can get (call 1800 422 737 Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm)
  • talk with your doctor or other health professionals about equipment or strategies that might help you
  • talk with other carers who care for people with the same or similar conditions (you can join our online carer forum)

Managing

At this stage, you have set up a routine and organised some of the support you need. This stage can be stable, but you can also experience emergencies that take you back to the Surviving stage.

If you are at this stage, you can:

  • make an emergency care plan
  • find out what other help you can get at home or in the community
  • explore ways to manage your stress

Thriving

At this stage, you have not only established routines for the person you care for, but know how to handle emergencies and have ongoing ways to care for yourself and manage your stress.

If you are at this stage, you can:

  • take a break and get help when you need it
  • have time for yourself and for your other family and friends
  • return to work or study

Life after caring

At some stage, your caring role may come to an end – either when the person you care for recovers, when they die, or when they leave your care and other people take over the caring role. You may need to deal with grief, and will need to plan for your life after caring.

If you are at this stage, you can:

  • get personal or grief counselling
  • talk with other carers who may have experienced the end of care
  • join community groups

Support for young carers

If you are aged 25 or under and care for someone, you may be a young carer.

Young carers can face particular problems. You might find it hard to find the services and help you need. You might find it hard to do well at school when you’re looking after someone else. You might find it hard to make or keep friends, or to go out and socialise.

Support on Carer Gateway

This website has information and tips on being a carer, how to get financial help, how to get help so you can take a break, and how to look after yourself.

You can call Carer Gateway to get support and services to help you. Call 1800 422 737 Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm. You can also ask someone to call you back at a convenient time.

Request a call back

Support from other networks

Many other organisations also offer support for young carers:

  • Young Carers Network – has information online or you can call 1800 242 636 to talk about anything that is worrying you. You can also contact Carers Australia groups in every state and territory:
  • Kids Helpline – has information online or you can call 1800 551 800 to talk with a counsellor
  • Lifeline – has information about where to get help or you can call 13 11 14 to talk with a counsellor
  • ReachOut.com – has information for young people and their families who are experiencing a difficult time, and has a forum for you to talk with other similar people
  • eheadspace – provides online and phone support and counselling to young people aged 12–25 and their families and friends (call 1800 650 890)
  • Children of Parents with a Mental Illness – has information and videos for children and teenagers who have a parent with a mental illness
  • We Care – is an online booklet for young carers