Self-care for carers

Everyone needs self-care, especially those who care for others

At any one time, approximately 1 in 10 Australians provide informal, usually unpaid, care for a loved one.

This equates two and half million Australians who are juggling prolonged periods of stress and anxiety and feelings of burnout.

This unrelieved stress causes what is known as ‘carer’s fatigue’ or ‘carer’s burnout’.

For those affected, it makes self-care a necessity, not a luxury.

What is carer’s fatigue/carer’s burnout?

Carer’s burnout is a state of complete physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.

It can affect anyone who is a caregiver. Anyone who is member of our support networks, who helps an individual with the activities of daily living.

While commonly associated with people caring for senior relatives, carer’s burnout can also affect:

  • New parents
  • Foster parents
  • People caring for a loved one with disability
  • Grandparents looking after a grandchild
  • Looking after a loved after being discharged from medical care
  • People juggling caring, work and other commitments
  • People working in caring professions such as nursing, counselling, aged and disability care

While caring for someone else can be incredibly rewarding, it can be stressful and challenging too. If all your focus is on another person, it can be easy to forget to look after yourself.

Common signs of carer’s burnout

  • Lower energy levels
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Reduced immunity
  • Feeling helpless and hopeless
  • Becoming more impatient and irritable
  • Difficulty relaxing, even when help is available
  • Increased exhaustion, even after sleeping or taking a break
  • Caring, along with the things you usually do, give you little satisfaction

Source: ConnectAbility Australia

The importance of our own care

Even amidst a burnout, acknowledging and recognising our emotions is a positive step.

Feeling fatigued or burnt out is something that can feel overwhelming, and these feelings can be navigated.

It can allow us to understand the reason behind our emotions, recognising emotions is something which can help us feel more in control.

Negative emotions can lead to negative thoughts, when unchecked, can have a wider effect on our work, relationships, and the person/people we care for.

When we recognise our emotions and thoughts, it means we can ask for help. It also enables us to know what specific help to ask for.

How we can care for carers

Looking after ourselves empowers us to be a better carer, loved one and friend.

With these in mind, we can support carers in our lives by:

  • Keeping in touch
  • Encourage them to take a break
  • Help, or find ways to share some of the responsibilities
  • Invite them to an outing or an event together
  • Encourage them to seek support if they need it
  • Help them look after their physical health
  • Support them to maintain good mental health

Source: Dementia Australia

Self-care tips for carers

Putting your needs first can feel conflicting, but it is worthwhile to do.

There are ways you can balance your needs and take some time for yourself using some of these self-care strategies:

  • Learn stress management techniques
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to a professional, or people who understand
  • Do your best to eat well and get enough exercise
  • See your friends
  • Work on getting enough sleep