Caring for the Carer: Looking after yourself when you are in a caring role

I recognise that there are male carers out there and acknowledge their efforts. I am speaking to women in this blog as this is based on my experience, however my advice is the same for men who are carers.

A lot of my female clients tell me how stressful their lives are due to being in a caring role. Often, they are young Mums, juggling caring for children, managing a home and full-time or part-time work. Then there are the women closer to my age, who like me, are caring for ageing parents and helping with grandchildren, while working or running their business.

Note: This blog is inspired by International Women’s Day and my own personal journey.

Even when people feel as I do, that caring for someone is an honour and a privilege, it can still be a lot of work, and physically and emotionally exhausting.

I think most women in this position could easily add juggler, time management expert, counsellor and acrobat to their resumes.
Being a carer means being super organised, prioritising what is most important, juggling your calendar to fit in scheduled appointments, attending to children’s needs (including after school sport) and generally catering to other people’s requirements.

Often this means being super flexible – as the appointments or events have a set time. The carer is the one who has to shift their priorities around. Medical and other appointments are grabbed wherever and whenever you can get them.
School Sports Days, or after school activities, are on set days and unless you are your own boss, you need to go to work.

If you are your own boss, while you may have more flexibility than an employee, there is the potential that too much time away from your business will negatively impact on profitability.

It can be exhausting and stressful. Who takes care of the carer?

Where do they fit in self-care and make time for their own needs?

To be better carers, we need to take care of ourselves as well. When someone in a caring role makes time for themselves and their personal growth and healing, they not only feel better, but they are also kinder and more patient carers. Everyone wins.

Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.

We are told this during the safety chat at the beginning of a flight. We are no use to anyone if we pass out from lack of oxygen. It is important as carers to take care of ourselves first, so that we are strong enough and capable of caring for another person. Carers are no use to anyone if they are burnt out and this is a very real possibility, unless self-care is a priority.

I don’t have time I hear you say. Then make time. It only takes 10 minutes a day to take some time out for yourself. Make a cuppa and sit outside while you drink it.

Being a carer is not about being a martyr.

If you find yourself constantly putting yourself last, ask yourself – when did you decide that caring for others means you come last? Who said you have to come last and never have any time to take care of yourself? If you believe that being a carer means that you can’t have time for yourself, ask – Is that true? Is it really true?

The answer is no, it’s not true. You deserve to be cared for as well.

Stress and being overloaded with caring can lead to burnout, resentment and meltdowns.

How does it feel to always put other’s needs ahead of your own?

The alarm bell here is if you are starting to feel negatively about caring for someone. You may be simply stressed trying to fit everything in, angry that you aren’t getting any help, frustrated with a system that has let you down e.g. the aged care or medical system, resentful that you always seem to come last, or you may simply feel frustrated with how life is.

It’s really important to do three things.

Firstly, schedule regular time for yourself.
Book a massage, have a facial, sit and read a book, go out for a coffee with a friend, potter in the garden or just have a nap. None of these things needs to take a lot of time but will make the world of difference to your stress levels.

Secondly, acknowledging and accepting your situation and becoming aware of any negative feelings you have is the first step to healing.
You may feel that the welfare of everyone else is more important than your own, you may feel that you are not being heard or acknowledged, or that no-one cares.
All of these can stem from experiences earlier in life that led to memories being stored in the unconscious mind. If at some point in the past you have felt unimportant, unheard or that no-one cared, this becomes a button that gets pushed and will pop up to trigger you at every opportunity and it’s even worse when you feel these things are happening now.

Thirdly, ask for help.
Whether it’s from family or friends, local organisations that support carers, childcare centres and out of school hours care, respite care for elderly relatives and government funded supports. You may feel all alone at times, or that there is no-one that can help.
I encourage you to look around and discover options for support for yourself or whoever you are caring for. Consider therapy or healing for your own emotional health, it will make the world of difference.

Find your voice and ask for help.

We used to live in villages where everyone pitched in and helped each other. Now we live more isolated lives, often managing alone. Maybe it’s time to reach out and establish your own village, or find one that is already out there, such as a carer’s organisation.

“Remember you don’t have to do it all alone, you were never meant to.” Brene Brown.