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Carers taking care of themselves

Although it can be difficult, you need to consider your own needs as well as those of the person you are caring for. If your health begins to suffer, caring will become more difficult and it will not be easy to continue doing all the things that you need to do. You may even be unable to continue caring.

Carers must think of themselves first - because if they have to give up, there will be no carer.

These general guidelines and tips about how to take better care of yourself have worked for other carers.

Getting out                   

Try to continue with activities that you enjoy. Even though the many responsibilities of caring can make it difficult to manage, it is really important that you follow your own interests outside your caring role.

Some carers say that they feel guilty when they leave the house, or enjoy an activity without the person they are caring for. If you are finding it difficult to get out and about, talk to someone about how you are feeling.

Knowing you're not alone

It's easy to become isolated when you are a carer. You might be too busy to keep up with friends and family. People may visit you less often. Loneliness can be one of the worst side effects of being a carer. Sometimes just talking to someone who understands what you are going through can be a great relief. Sharing your experiences with someone you trust - family, friends, neighbours, other carers or workers - can help.

It often helps to talk to people in the same situation. Your Commonwealth Carer Resource Centre and support groups can put you in touch with other people who share similar experiences. When ideas, feelings, concerns, information and problems are shared, the experience of caring can seem less isolating. You can contact your Commonwealth Carer Resource Centre on 1800 242 636 (free call).

It is important that you don't feel alone - especially for those people who don't have family members to give help and support.

Keeping healthy

Try to make sure that you are:

  • Making time for regular exercise - this will make you feel more energetic and provide a break from your daily activities.
  • Having healthy, regular meals - it is not always easy to do, but it is important for your long term health.
  • Getting enough rest and sleep - tiredness and exhaustion often add to the stress of caring.
  • Looking after your back - if you need to lift or transfer the person you are caring for, get professional advice on the safest way to lift and any available aids to assist.
  • Talking to your GP about your caring role and the demands it makes on you.

Taking breaks

You cannot care constantly without a break. Even though it's often not easy to do, ask for help. Ask family and friends and respite care services to help you have regular and frequent breaks. The sort of break you take will depend on what suits you, and the person you are caring for, as well as the services that are available in your area.

Breaks can be taken in your house, or away from it. They might be for a few hours, a day, overnight or longer. It might mean that you go to an exercise class, attend a wedding, catch up with friends or family, or go on holidays. It can be a regular weekly event or something that happens only once a year.

Contact your local Carer Respite Centre on the freecall number 1800 059 059 to discuss what respite options are available for you and the person you are caring for. You can also contact your Commonwealth Carer Resource Centre on 1800 242 636 (free call) to discuss taking breaks.

Planning to look after yourself

Getting in the habit of making time for yourself as a regular part of your day is important. Don't feel guilty about this time - it's for you. Planning ahead and pacing yourself will also help. If possible, plan activities such as housework for times when you're feeling you have the energy. Don't rush, and remember to value yourself and all that you do.

Practicing relaxation

Although it can be easier said than done, you need time to yourself every day. It doesn't need to be long; 15 minutes can do wonders. Try to take time to just sit and relax or listen to music that suits you.

Taking care of yourself - a checklist

  • Do I have someone I trust to talk to about how I'm feeling?
  • Am I trying to get some regular exercise?
  • Am I trying to get enough rest and sleep?
  • Am I trying to eat regular meals?
  • Do I get enough breaks from caring?
  • Have I got some regular times for relaxation?

Avoid isolation - foster friendships, by phone if personal contact is unreliable due to uncertainty of caring role. Keep fit - walk, swim - stress management is important. Have a conference with relatives - agree on division of care, sharing of responsibilities - be specific on commitments. Take a break.

What if I'm not coping?

Most carers will tell you that they have times when they are unable to cope. If you're feeling this way, talk to someone about it - your family, friends, GP, or contact your Commonwealth Carer Resource Centre on 1800 242 636 (free call).

This information is sourced from the fact sheet 'Taking care of yourself ' by Carers Australia'. For a copy of this fact sheet and others useful resources visit the Carers Australia website at http://www.carersaustralia.com.au/