Guardian Carers Feature on BBC News London

Coping with one’s feelings when being a carer

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Coping with one’s feelings when being a carer

Being a carer is probably one of the most rewarding jobs out there. A carer invests their time and energy into helping others and offering them a better life. There aren’t many people out there who are able to do this job. The most important things you need to have as a carer are kindness and a passion for helping others.

Caring for others may be an extremely rewarding job, but it also comes with its downsides sometimes. Whether you are caring for a loved one or you are hired to offer care, you will be providing a range of support for that person, such as emotional support, help with coping with a mental problem, personal care, providing medical care or looking after their finances, among many others. After doing this job for a while, you may begin to feel overwhelmed. And that is completely normal. The emotional side of caregiving is the biggest part of the job.

The emotional side of caregiving

Caring for someone will involve coping with an array of different feelings. Of course, the intensity of the feelings experienced is based on the level of care you give. If the elder you are looking after just needs company and conversation, you may not be experiencing too many difficulties in your carer role. But if you need to help an elder suffering from a terminal illness, dementia or Alzheimer’s, you will probably have to cope with more issues. As a carer, you may be coping with your loved one’s physical and emotional needs, which can be very tiring because you are coping with your own feelings as well. You can’t just ignore the way you are feeling. Even the strongest person out there has their limits. Some of the things you may have to cope with as a carer are:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Loneliness
  • Grief
  • Helplessness
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Resentment

Being a carer, especially if it’s your first time offering care, you will be experiencing these things. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and to be going through all these feelings. Do not out yourself down and try not to give yourself a hard time. It’s common for a carer to be experiencing these feelings. Understanding this can help you cope with your feelings. The key when being a carer is just being kind to yourself and thinking positively. This is how you can cope with your care role and the feelings that it inevitably brings with it.

If you’re feeling down and discouraged, another good idea is to share your feelings with someone close to you, such as a spouse or a friend. If you don’t feel like you can do that, maybe speak to your GP or a health care or social care professional. Either way, speaking about your feelings is the best way to cope as a carer. If you keep your feelings locked inside, it can be worse - you may end up being depressed. If you are constantly tired, forgetful, and don’t have an appetite it will only add to your depression. Here are some signs you should take into consideration which can lead to depression:

  • Feeling guilty
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling sad and hopeless
  • Feeling irritable

Your health and your sanity comes above your carer job, so you should always look out for the signs, identify them and do not let them go unnoticed.

Coping with feelings of guilt as a carer

One of the feelings stated before that almost all carers face is guilt. Again, feeling like this is only natural. You are only human!

As a carer you may feel like you should be doing more, that you are not doing enough and just feel overall guilty that you are not doing a good job. When you are a carer you may often find yourself in a vicious cycle of resentment of guilt.

You may feel like your life no longer belongs to you - that it’s only about the person you are caring for and you whole life revolves around your carer role. You will find yourself feeling guilty for the way that you’re feeling. Many carers who give up their life to caring for a loved one or allocate a sizeable amount of time to caring, will eventually feel like their life no longer belongs to themselves. If you’re a carer experiencing this, you may feel almost as if your life is slipping away. You spend all your free time caring for somebody else and you may find yourself losing touch with the people close to you: your friends and even your spouse or children, in the most extreme cases.

You are not alone. Many carers find it hard to maintain a social life and carry on with their hobbies and interests. But you may find yourself feeling guilty, that as a carer you allow yourself to think about you, when there’s a loved one in a very difficult situation requiring your care and help.

You may feel like your carer life is different from the life of your friends. You may find out that they do not understand the way that you are feeling, they do not know how to help you cope with your feelings as a carer. Some carers also have a fear of stigma. Stigma for the carer job that they are doing and stigma for the person they are caring for. This fear of having your life out in the open and uncovering your feelings to other people, may end up making you feel very lonely.

Coping as a carer

Carers have a very rewarding job, but at the same time quite difficult. Carer stories are all different. There is no carer which is exactly the same. Some of the care stories may have common ground, but all situations differ from situation to situation. Either way, if you’re a carer, you need some down-time to look after yourself and your mental health.

It is true that when you’re a carer it can feel unnatural to think about yourself, but this is a must. When you’re a carer, you need to look after your physical and mental well-being so that you don’t end up having a break-down. If you are well and healthy as a carer, you will be able to offer greater care for a longer period of time. You need to know how to maintain a balance between your carer life and your personal life. It is understandable that you lead a very busy life, maybe you are managing your career, family life and being a carer at the same time. It may be hard to cope with all this and have time to focus on yourself and your health. There are many things you can do to improve your overall health when you are a carer. Here are some ideas:

  • Get enough rest. When being a carer, lack of sleep can majorly influence your day to day life and it can actually increase the risk of being depressed, if you cannot meet your daily challenges
  • Eat healthy food. This is a very obvious one, but it’s very important to try and eat regular meals when you’re a carer. Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables will boost your energy and help you cope with your day to day tasks
  • Do regular physical activities. You don’t have to attend a gym class every day - it is understandable that as carer you have many things on your mind and your time is stretched out. You can start by just going on a short walk every morning, or cycle to work for example

Even if it may seem difficult in the beginning, you have to put yourself first. As a carer, you have a tendency to stop caring about yourself and only caring about the person you are caring for. You need to stop that. You won’t be able to cope with life if you forget about yourself and your feelings. Here are some tips if you are struggling to cope with being a carer:

  • Simply look after your general health. If you notice your health is degrading or you are becoming unwell when you’re a carer, take these symptoms into consideration. Do not ignore
  • Socialise. Social interaction is one of the key elements to living a healthy life, especially when you are a carer. Being socially excluded can actually lead to dementia in later life. Try to meet a friend at least once a week, for one hour. If you cannot find time to do even this as a carer, keep in touch by email, phone or even better, video call
  • Learn a relaxation technique. Learning how to unwind when you’re a carer will help you feel invigorated and more rested too. Most relaxation techniques, such as yoga or mindfulness can be practiced for as little as 5 minutes a day.

Reactions of carers

When you are a carer, you will find yourself in a variety of different situations. One of the main skills of a carer is knowing how to cope in different situations. Every carer is different and each situation requires different methods of reaction. At the same time, the elders that are being looked after need to dealt with in a variety of different ways.

A carer needs to know how to react quickly in emergency situations and think on their feet. For example, if the person you are caring for has fallen, as a carer you need to know how to cope with that specific situation. You must know how to position yourself and know how to lift them up.

Moreover, if you are a carer who is looking after a person suffering from dementia, you must know how to cope with their mood swings and their changing behaviour. As a carer, you need to know how to speak to them so as not to have their mood get worse.

Looking after someone who is suffering from a disease such as dementia or Alzheimer’s can be a very challenging task for a carer. You need to know how to cope with all the challenges it brings and be able to hold your ground. It’s essential that as a carer, you do not forget to look after your own well-being too. Try to take a break when you need it, do not burn yourself in your carer role. This may entail asking the person you are looking for to find ways of coping without you, if they are in a position where they can actually get one without your help for a couple of days. Otherwise, you may want to arrange for a friend or a family member to take on the role of carer for a short period of time.

The length of your carer break may depend on the way you are feeling. Maybe you only need a few hours to cope with your situation or maybe you are in need of a few days to recharge. Whatever the time frame you must look after your personal health as well. There is always a way to find time for yourself. Your sanity and health is certainly more important than your carer job. You need to cope with your life above all.

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