Carer self-care tips are just as important as the tips applied when looking after someone in care. Becoming someone’s carer or advocate whether through age, disability or disease can be a tough road. Both you and the person you support will undoubtedly become experts in their situation. Spending time on the coalface with high levels of lived experience makes for a tough learning curve.
At times, it can seem like you are absorbing a world of medical, legal and care-related information. The lion-share of your brain space will lean towards the situation at hand. This makes it tough to make space for anything else, including your own self-care.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are some of the ways you can activate carer self-care tips while streamlining the care process
You don’t have to go it alone
The first of our carer self-care tips is recognising no carer is an island. No matter the situation you face, there are always people who have walked the road before you. There are a wealth of places you can go to get support and advice. And you should look for these places, even if they don’t fit exactly with what you need. Or if it’s not usually in your nature to seek outside support.
Think of information sources, support groups, blogs on live experience, advocacy, resources and books as ways of leapfrogging the process. You don’t need to repeat every mistake on the journey to appropriate care. Nor do you have to learn every single piece of information from the ground up.
It is about choosing trusted, useful, evidence-based resources. For example, you can begin with:
- Information from your GPs, doctors and specialists
- State and federal government resources and supports
- Calling places like Lifeline on 13 11 14 and asking for information on supports in your local area
And expand your carer self-care tips to include:
- Not-for-profit bodies in the space
- Associations and support groups
- University research and research centres
Plus, you can find everyday people like you via attending support groups, finding groups online that talk about your particular situation, designated forums run by bodies and groups.
And engaging with supports on your terms. You don’t have to be all things to all people. But finding people who understand what you are going through is incredibly important.
One of the traps many carers fall into is one where they believe they must do all the caring to be useful. This is definitely not the case.
Delegation is one of the best models of providing accurate and helpful support. In another blog containing carer self-care tips, we spoke about delegation in providing care via creating support networks.
The reasons why you should delegate are:
- It reduces the carer’s risk of burn out
- It helps tailor the care to meet a range of needs instead of focussing on what one person can provide
- It helps involve all the family, reducing everyone’s stress and feeling of powerlessness by allowing them to engage in a meaningful way
- It reduces the risk of overly heroic carers dictating care terms to the person requiring care
- It reduces the risk of aggression or other unwanted behaviours being directed towards a single person
- It helps timetable care in a way that allows for a routine to be established
Delegation takes all kinds of forms. It can be as simple as taking on a cleaner or as involved as creating a set routine and roster of various individuals to aid with care.
You can pay for services like nursing or cleaning, apply for government services or subsidies, activate the family, and join networks and carers groups in your area.
Another way to delegate is to automate aspects of the care process to ensure they are consistent and routine. This can be achieved by going through the process of creating a care plan with Exsitu. And it can be maintained through automatically scheduling online shopping right through to mapping care provision as a project in software like Monday or Excel.
Automating wherever possible is one of the best carer self-care tips because it frees you up from repetitive tasks or starting each moment over again.
Being all things to one person is not romantic or how it’s done. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to provide appropriate care at any stage of life.
Understand compassion fatigue
Being a carer is tough work. There will be days when the person in front of you is not someone you recognise any longer. That person will have good days and bad days in terms of mood, behaviour and how their body or mind fails them.
You can – and will – feel sick of providing care on occasion.
The system can also seem difficult to navigate or not fit-for-purpose at times.
The daily tasks, systemic issues, lack of hope and increased workload can and does invite compassion fatigue. Even the most experienced care professional can find it takes its toll when it comes to being someone’s carer.
The trick is avoiding it becoming a permanent state and the way you feel all the time.
How you can avoid falling into compassion fatigue includes:
- Make rest a priority – if you operate without appropriate sleep, you can and will be prone to lowered mood and increase your risk of making mistakes or inviting unwanted reactions. Sleep, reset and regular breaks are all part of providing good quality care
- Sharing the workload – don’t give into the sense you are alone. Share the work and share your story
- Ensuring your own self-care – e.g., time away from responsibilities, daily exercise, appropriate nutrition, taking fun breaks, talking about something other than care and/or how to provide it, physical relaxation etc. Don’t just read the carer self-care tips you find. Activate them!
- Maintaining your mental game – as hard as it can be at times it is important to remain grateful for the things you have, grounded in the realities of the situation without unnecessary drama, planting positive thoughts, recognising the signs of stress and addressing them as they arise
- Setting boundaries – it’s OK to say to someone that you cannot do something for them. Or that you need to take your time to assess the validity of a request.
Think about how you care about yourself as having a direct impact on how you care about others. You cannot provide care on an empty physical or emotional petrol tank.
Make some aspects about you
Having strong strategies to support your own goals is a vital part of the care equation.
This can take many forms but might carer self-care tips like:
- Negotiating what caring for someone looks like– e.g., if you are taking someone in or living with them to facilitate care, how will this operate in real terms? What supports will you need? What is the give and take in the relationship?
- Setting aside time for yourself to do things related to care – e.g., attending counselling or support groups to have a safe space to share your feelings. Having time to research treatment or to talk to the specialists overseeing the care
- Using your time outside your role as carer wisely – securing time off from care is one thing. Having do not disturb on your phone to avoid texts and calls that can wait is another. So too is not having to beg or borrow time to get basic needs or self-care met. Schedule your time as well as your availability to conversations about care and enjoy the difference
- Having hobbies, friends and activities outside care – a common mistake a lot of people make is giving into guilt about having a life outside care. But we all need a break on occasion. There is nothing wrong with catching up with your life outside your carer’s role. In fact, many carers find they can provide better care for longer if they have appropriate timeouts.
It’s also important to recognise that any leaning on the belief you can save people or that you are the only answer in their life is a sign of increased stress. That stress can lead to acquired mental health conditions such as depression and/or anxiety. If you find yourself over-investing someone’s care and what it means, take a step back and seek help from a counsellor or GP. Perspective can save your mental health – and the person you care about.
The bottom line on carer self-care tips for people in care roles
Never underestimate the power of asking for help or what it is to give help to another. Resilience is key. And the best way to access it is to have a plan that looks after you just as much as it looks after the person you are caring for.