Caring for the Carer: Mental Health 101
27 October 2021
Caring for someone can take a toll on even the most resilient people. Caregiver stress is extremely common and many carers experience feelings of exhaustion and burnout. If you’re a carer, then you need to take steps to stay healthy and protect your mental health and wellbeing.
Follow these suggestions to improve your mental health while caregiving:
Manage caregiver stress§
Caregiving has many rewards, but it can also be stressful and many carers experience the physical and emotional stress of caregiving. Feeling stressed often can put you at risk of multiple health issues including high blood pressure and depression. You are more at risk of caregiver stress if you live with the person you are caring for full-time, feeling lonely and isolated, or have a history of mental illness.
Common signs of caregiver stress include feeling overwhelmed, gaining or losing weight, always feeling tired and lethargic, becoming irritated easily, feeling sad, and having physical symptoms such as headaches or body aches and pains.
You must find ways to overcome caregiver stress and deal with the emotional and physical demands of caregiving. You can help manage caregiver stress by setting realistic caregiving goals, taking regular breaks from caregiving, and joining a support group for carers. Visit your doctor if you are experiencing high amounts of stress or have any concerns about your health.
Schedule regular breaks§
Scheduling regular breaks from caregiving is one of the most effective ways to manage caregiving stress and avoid becoming burnt out. Taking care of someone is exhausting and you will need regular breaks to unwind and recharge your batteries. This is particularly important if you are caring for someone full-time or have other demands on your time.
Failing to take breaks from caregiving can lead to serious health issues. In fact, carers who don’t take regular breaks are twice as likely to experience mental health issues and have a 23% higher risk of a stroke according to the Carers Trust.
Respite services are designed to give caregivers a temporary break from their responsibilities. You can use this time to go away on holiday, enjoy hobbies and interests, and practice self-care. Respite care can also be called on in an emergency. Allowing you to have peace of mind knowing that your loved one will receive continuity of care if you are ever needed elsewhere last minute.
Make time for exercise§
Making time to exercise can be difficult when you’re a caregiver, particularly if you work long hours and have other personal responsibilities. The NHS recommends that adults should do roughly 150 minutes of moderate-intensity excise - e.g. brisk walking - or 75 minutes of high intensity - e.g. jogging or running - every week.
Regular exercise will keep your body in good physical shape and reduce your risk of developing chronic health conditions like obesity and cardiovascular disease. Exercise is also a fantastic stress-reliever that has been proven to reduce anxiety and lift a person’s mood.
You can increase your level of activity by making healthy choices to include exercise in your routine. For instance, walk short journeys rather than driving and start doing physical hobbies like hiking or cycling instead of watching television in the evenings.
Eat a nutritious diet§
Following a healthy diet can be a challenge when you’re a caregiver and many carers find themselves relying on quick convenience foods. What you eat plays a crucial role in your health and wellbeing. A nutritious diet will give you the energy you need to deal with the physical demands of caregiving and reduce your risk of catching common illnesses and infections.
Make sure that you eat three balanced meals a day that include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. You can snack between meals to keep your energy levels up, but choose healthy options instead of junk food. Some of the best healthy snacks to give you energy on the go are nuts, crackers, cereal bars, popcorn, and fresh or dry fruit slices. Make sure that you also stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
As a caregiver, you may focus all of your time and attention on your loved one and not realise that your own health and wellbeing is suffering. Being a carer is hard work and you need to give yourself regular breaks to relax and recharge. Make your health a priority and follow these tips to preserve your mental wellbeing.
Article by: Meghan Taylor
Meghan is an aspiring writer in the care industry who loves the outdoors, yoga and anything that helps her relax.