SelfCare: The Importance Of SelfCare When You’re A Carer

SelfCare: The Importance Of SelfCare When You’re A Carer

Selfcare Pillarswritten by Anne Redmond

Selfcare is unbelievably important for carers. It may surprise you to learn that people who spend much of their time caring for others are at pretty high risk of developing mental illness. There are several reasons for this:

  • The suffering of those for whom they care leaves an emotional mark upon them.

  • If the role of carer is ‘thrust upon them’ by circumstance, problems adjusting can bring about mental health issues (however willingly they take on the role) – making their own selfcare essential

  • They feel stressed by the pressures and hassles of caring, let alone adding selfcare

  • They fail to enact enough selfcare, and thus encounter ‘burnout’.

Of these, the last one is particularly important. ‘Caregiver burnout’ is a very real and serious phenomenon, which not only has serious negative effects on the caregiver themselves, but also severely impacts their ability to care. All in all, it’s bad news for everyone. It’s absolutely vital, for the sake of all parties involved, that carers learn to practice a decent standard of self-care.

Caring, SelfCare, And Guilt

One of the major factors which prevents carers from treating themselves with the standards of care that they should is guilt. Confronted with the suffering of another, empathetic carers feel a responsibility towards that person. When they themselves start to feel the strain of that responsibility, rather than ease that strain through self-care, they instead ramp up their responsibilities. They scold themselves, feeling as though they are bad people for struggling to care for someone who is (they tell themselves) suffering far worse trials. In order to both punish themselves for what they see as their ‘selfishness’, and to ‘get over’ that ‘selfishness’, they work harder than ever before. To the detriment of both themselves and the person for whom they are caring.

Nobody is perfect. Nobody is a tireless saint. We are all human, and we all have very human needs for rest, good nutrition, quality social time, enjoyable leisure, time to ourselves, and so on. When caring for someone – particularly someone who has suffered from psychological trauma – opportunities to fulfill these needs become more limited. Rather than punishing ourselves for craving these needs when they arise, we should instead schedule in time for ourselves. Ultimately, both carer and cared for will benefit from a carer who is well rested, healthy, and in a state of emotional equilibrium.

Symptoms Of ‘Caregiver Burnout’

Selfcare: avoid burnoutMost people understand, deep down, when they’re starting to burn out. However, many suppress the knowledge (perhaps due to the aforementioned guilt phenomenon) and continue to neglect their own needs. It is therefore worth running through a few of the major symptoms of caregiver burnout:

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability and/or mood swings, which often result in lashing out emotionally at the person under care

  • Depression

  • Changes in weight

  • Social isolation

  • High blood pressure

  • A general feeling of ill health

  • Lack of motivation

If you are a carer experiencing these symptoms, it is worth assessing yourself with the following questions:

  • Do you feel that you must labor in order to be ‘worthy’ of people’s affections (particularly those of the person for whom you are caring)?

  • Do you feel selfish if you make time – valuable selfcare time – for yourself?

  • Have you taken the selfcare time to exercise, cook yourself a proper meal, get the right amount of rest, go to medical checkups, and generally ensure that you are in good health over the past few weeks?

  • Do you try and avoid thinking about your own selfcare needs?

  • Do you feel inadequate if you ask for help?

If you answered ‘yes’ to some of these questions, then you may need to seek help in order to reframe your attitude to yourself and to the care work you’re doing in a healthier manner.

Eliminating Caregiver Burnout

Selfcare heart: precious Selfcare and eliminating caregiver burnout seems like a simple process of taking time to ensure that you’re healthy (both physically and mentally). However, the hangups of guilt, insecurity and so on which push carers to labor past their limits can take a while to deal with. To start, force yourself to make time each day to exercise, to cook yourself healthy meals, and to get at least seven hours of sleep per night. If you feel that you cannot spare this time, then seek help from others (there are organisations out there who can help, if friends and family cannot step in). Following on from this, try to teach yourself self-care strategies to maintain your quality of life, and reduce stress. Online resources such as those found here may be able to help. Counsellors, therapists, healthcare professionals, and friends are also valuable sources of help. Above all, remember that the better you are feeling, the better able you are to care.