Nurturing Your Mental Well-being While Caregiving
Whether caring for family members who need care in old age or after an accident, the act of caregiving is a significant challenge for everyone involved. But you are not alone in this. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in the United Kingdom, approximately 4.5 million people received home-based care in 2021. Of these, over half were provided care by their family members.
This article is about how you can take care of your mental well-being and that of the person you are caring for, in addition to tackling the challenging situation of providing caring.
Not much time to spare? Jump straight to the section that interests you most:
- Caregiving and its impact on relationships
- Mental well-being challenges & solutions
- Tips to integrate self-care into your daily life
- How OpenUp can support you
Giving care and its influence on relationships
Caring for relatives brings many challenges, such as new relationship dynamics. “There can be changes in the roles we know in the family, e.g. the younger sibling can become the older sibling when the older sibling falls ill” says psychologist Judith Klenter. The change is also difficult at first for parents who need care.
She adds: “This can lead to guilt, shame, and anger that decisions are now being made for them and they may feel as though they are being patronised.” Grief also plays a role in caregiving, she says, especially when a person is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. “In psychology, we talk about ‘ambiguous loss’, which is the grief of losing a person who is still alive but no longer there as we know them.” If you are caring for a family member, keep the following suggestions in mind:
- Do not talk about the person but with the person.
- As far as possible, recognise the person as autonomous and respect their right to their own opinion and privacy.
- Give the person cared for as much decision-making space as possible and respect their choices.
- Acknowledge the person’s old role and continue to plan activities (e.g., date nights or romantic gestures as a couple).
Mental well-being challenges & solutions
Caring for loved ones affects your relationships and directly impacts your (mental) well-being.
Before we explore the potential solutions, let’s first focus on the challenges so that you know what symptoms of overload you can look out for:
- The feeling of being overwhelmed and hopeless
- The feeling of exhaustion due to constant care-giving
- Back, neck and joint pain
- Headaches and aching limbs
- Stomach issues
- Sleep problems
However, we do not want to ignore the positive feelings. Many carers feel a sense of reliability and feel they can give back to their loved ones in this way.
However, the multiple burdens should not be forgotten. As a carer, provide moments of relief, consider how to get support from family or social services, and take time every day to yourself (even if it’s not much).
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What services are there that I have not yet taken advantage of and that could relieve me? (e.g. meals on wheels, care leave, part-time care leave, mobile home help, cleaning services, etc.).
- Which rituals have I neglected and how can I integrate them back into my life?
- Do I regularly talk about my situation, and with whom?
- Can I talk openly about it with my superiors and possibly ask for more time flexibility?
Remember: It’s OK to get support and accept help. You don’t have to manage everything on your own. To be there for others, you must take good care of yourself first.
Do you have questions about organising care, assessing care needs, understanding care benefits, and more in the United Kingdom? The Department of Health and Social Care has developed a comprehensive online resource where you can access all the information you require for caregiving.
Tips to integrate self-care into your daily life
1. Create free spaces and short moments just for you
Especially in caregiving, it can be challenging to carve out time for yourself. But make a conscious effort to find these moments, even for a few minutes. During this time, do something good for you that is relaxing, such as reading a few pages of a book or listening to your favourite song.
2. Schedule regular check-in moments with yourself.
Several times a day, consciously take time to check-in with your body and become aware of your feelings and needs. If you notice you are very stressed, you can also do a short breathing exercise or guided meditation during these moments.
3. Hold on to soothing rituals
Whether it’s a walk in the morning, a coffee in the morning, or a phone call with a good friend, try to stick to small feel-good rituals that give you energy.
4. Plan buffer times to avoid stress
Time management is the be-all and end-all in caregiving. But no question, especially in combination with a full-time job, it is challenging. Therefore, try not to plan too much to do in your day and leave some time open. Especially if something comes up in your care, these buffer times give you more flexibility, and you can avoid unnecessary stress.
5. Talk about it and share it with like-minded people
Don’t bottle up your feelings; this will only make you more irritable and affect your mental well-being. Let your friends and family – including the person you are caring for – know how you are doing and feeling. There may also be support groups in your area that you can join to talk to others.
How OpenUp can support you
Caring for loved ones can be challenging. Remember that OpenUp’s psychologists are always there for you if you need support or want someone to talk to. Book a free consultation here.