How do you look after yourself while you are caring for someone who is going through physical, mental or emotional trauma?
If you’ve suddenly taken on this role, it can be both daunting and exhausting. The situation may have affected your own mental health so how do you cope with your own needs while you are taking on the additional responsibility of someone else’s needs?
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to take care of yourself first. To borrow a phrase from flight safety protocols, put on your own oxygen mask first. You are no use to anyone if you are struggling. Here are some tips to keep you well while caring for another:
1. Take Care of your Body
Being a carer means having to think about and do things that you’ve never had to worry about before. It can be a steep learning curve and will likely eat up any spare moments of time you had. When you are so busy that you have no idea how you will get everything done, it’s easy to forget the basics—healthy eating, adequate sleep and regular exercise can easily become fast food, insomnia and lots of sitting around. Your health and energy levels will deteriorate if you let this happen, so it’s important to prioritise these good habits.
2. Take Care of your Mind
Equally important is your mental and emotional wellness. If you have regular practices to maintain your mind, I urge you to keep them up. When we are under stress, it’s easy to let these things slip, but this is the time when we need them most. If you don’t have a mental wellness routine, then now might be a good time to introduce a few simple things to help you cope with the stress.
Starting a journal is an easy way to help you deal with the emotions that are probably spinning around like a tumble dryer in your mind. Grab a notebook and pen and write freely, knowing that this is your private space to let out your feelings. This one habit will help you gain some clarity and calm.
You might have heard about meditation. There are many ways you can do this: check out the many apps available, go for a walk out in nature, sit quietly at the beach. Discover what works for you and make time to do it.
3. Find your confidante
Just as the person you are caring for needs you to be there for them, you too need a friend, mentor or counsellor to support you. This person is someone you can trust unconditionally, who will hear you without judgement. It may be someone who has gone through a similar experience, or a professional counsellor or psychologist. The most important thing is that you feel supported too.
4. Rally Friends and Family
When you take on the role of carer, you also take on that person’s daily tasks and responsibilities that they currently cannot fulfil. Handling all of this yourself is a massive undertaking, but it is not one that you need to do alone.
This is the time to call on your network of friends and family to help. In most cases, these are people in your life who would love to help but aren’t sure how to express their care. Put them to use and give them specific tasks. Ask if they would like to make a home-cooked meal for the person’s family, or if they can help with transport for their children. Perhaps there are some who can assist with cleaning or gardening. Each person’s contribution is appreciated, and in turn, they can experience the joy of giving.
5. Source Support
Some people experiencing crisis do not have a large network of family and friends. They can be the most reluctant to ask for help. If you find yourself unable to be the carer that you know they need, or if there are some specific areas you are unable to handle, reach out for expert help. There are many organisations who can offer assistance, ranging from transport to medical appointments through to peer counsellors who are accessible 24 hours a day.
Do not feel embarrassed or ashamed if you cannot cope with the role that has been thrust upon you. Source help for your loved one and don’t be afraid to ask for support with your own health and wellbeing.
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