If you have caring responsibilities, it is important to regularly check in with yourself and look after your wellbeing. Here, Laura Marcus discusses some common signs of caregiver burnout, and shares her top tips for managing stress as a carer.
Taking care of someone can be very rewarding, but it can also reduce the time and energy you have for yourself. As a carer you may spend multiple days a week, perhaps all of them, looking after someone else. This can make it hard to notice when you’re getting close to burnout.
It’s perfectly normal to feel stressed, anxious and even frustrated. It’s okay to have these feelings and you shouldn’t feel guilty. Instead, take these emotions as a sign that you may need to give yourself more time for self-care.
Symptoms of stress can vary, but you may experience one or more of the following;
- A constant feeling of tiredness
- Loss of energy and lack of motivation
- Being tearful for no obvious reason
- A general sense of things getting on top of you
- Mood swings or a short temper
- Over- or undereating
- Feeling isolated
If you care for someone with a disability, the Motability Scheme could help. Click here to find out more.
Tips to help you cope with stress
- Take regular breaks if you can. Taking time out during the day can make a big difference. Try to carve out some time for yourself every day, even if it’s only ten minutes. Resist the temptation to multitask during these times. Consider spending your break time looking out at a beautiful view, focusing on your breathing or even chatting to a friend.
- Add physical activity to your routine. It might feel like a chore or something you just don’t have the energy for, but physical activity is known to release endorphins that can give you an instant mood boost. If you don’t have time to do a full workout, a walk to the shops or ten minutes of stretching can be enough to reconnect with your body.
- Get a full night’s sleep. Sleep is essential and enables you to care for others. Without getting enough sleep, our minds and bodies simply can’t function at full capacity. Try some of the relaxation methods in this article before bedtime, switch off your phone or turn down its blue light function. If you still have trouble sleeping, speak to your GP.
- Eat healthily. The food we eat impacts our energy, health and mood, but we can sometimes slip into bad habits when we care for others. You may rely on the convenience of quick processed foods or reward yourself with a sweet treat, but these short-term decisions can impact your health over time. If this is something you struggle with, consider writing a food diary for a few weeks, jotting down your mood along with the foods you consume. You can then take a look and understand the relationship between your food choices and your energy levels, making any changes as needed.
- Talk about how you are feeling. A common cause of stress comes from the feeling that you must do it all on your own. Even if no one can take over for you, talking about things can help to lift the burden. It could be a friend, a relative, a support group or a counsellor – the important thing is just to put your feelings into words. If you’re struggling to find someone to talk to or if you’re not ready to say it out loud, try writing your feelings in a journal. This can also help you to release those feelings.
- Find ways to relax and unwind. Planning time out to enjoy an activity can encourage you to take a break and focus your mind on something more relaxing. Make a list of all the things that used to bring you joy and re-spark those interests. Do you enjoy being creative, or spending time in nature? By blocking out time for an activity you enjoy, you can tap into a different side of yourself and experience an instant mood boost.
- Explore lifestyle apps. Whether you need help switching off, taking charge of your diet, tracking your sleep or connecting to your community, there will be a smartphone app that can help. Lots of us spend time on our phones every day, so why not put that time to good use and explore some tools that can help you take care of yourself? Remember though, screen-free time is also important – so you should try to find a balance.
- Get help if you feel overwhelmed. If these lifestyle tips aren’t enough to help you to cope with stress, you should talk to your GP. They can help you find the right support for your physical and mental health, which is essential for your long-term ability to provide support and care for others who need it.