It’s physically, emotionally and mentally tough caring for a child who is terminally ill or has a disability. Add to this the current climate caused by COVID-19 and many unpaid carers find themselves in particularly challenging times.
There are about 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia. Having worked with many of them over the years, I know a lot of carers are good at being supportive and giving to others, but often don’t offer that same level of care to themselves. This can lead to mental and physical exhaustion – a situation of no benefit to the carer, or the person who relies on them.
Now more than ever carers (and everyone for that matter) should make their mental and physical wellbeing a priority to help them navigate through this uncertain period. Here is some evidence-based guidance that might help you with this.
Self-compassion is important
I often say to carers that they should show the same kindness to themselves that they do to the person in their care. Try to be patient with yourself and remember that it’s okay not to be perfect, you aren’t always going to get things right.
Finding this clarity of thought can be difficult in the midst of a busy or difficult day, so it’s important to create brief moments where you can relieve stress. Some simple breathing exercises can help. One of the Carer Gateway counsellors I work with at The Benevolent Society is also an accredited Breathworks Mindfulness teacher. She recommends finding a couple of minutes to sit in an upright position, inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Repeat this process and do it a few times a day if possible. Slowing down your breathing can help produce feelings of calmness and self-compassion. Some great apps to help with this are Smiling Mind, Insight Timer and UCLA Mindful.
If this exercise isn’t for you, try singing your favourite songs around the house. Singing releases endorphins and oxytocin that relieve anxiety and stress. So don’t worry if you can’t sing; it’s good for you.
It’s ok to have moments that are all about you
Being a carer usually means constantly caring for the needs of others, leaving little time and energy for you. Creating moments for yourself is important for your personal wellbeing. It can be as simple as ensuring you are eating well during the day and drinking plenty of water, or (depending on your situation) getting out of the house for a walk and sunlight. While you’re walking, try the mindful breathing technique explained above. Take notice of the beauty that is surrounding you. Not only will you likely feel better, but your energy levels will increase to help you with your caring responsibilities.
Another good idea is learning a new skill, which doesn’t need to be time consuming. It could be something as simple as watching an online cooking tutorial or attending a virtual event or webinar. Evidence suggests that learning something new has a positive impact on self-esteem and creates a sense of accomplishment and pride.
Be informed – not obsessed
With so much information readily available at the moment regarding COVID-19 and the economic outlook, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or have a negative outlook on life. Make sure you’re exposed to good quality and accurate information and choose one or two sources of truth to refer to. This will help to ensure that you’re not adding to your stress.
Plan for now and the future
Have you thought about what will happen to the person you care for if you get sick? Who can take over your caring role? What options do you have? Answering these kinds of questions and having a plan in place can help give you a better sense of security, control and preparedness.
If you need help doing this, carer support providers like Carer Gateway, who I work with, provide phone and online carer support planning, counselling and peer support.
I also think it’s a good idea to plan for the fun things in life, like where your first holiday will be now that travel restrictions are beginning to lift, or which restaurant or café you plan on going to first. Give yourself things to look forward to; it can be an uplifting exercise.
Remember, if you feel like you are not coping with your carer duties, receiving support early can make a significant difference to your life, reducing stress and improving wellbeing.
This post was written by Lyubov Rimer, Manager – Carers Respite and Community Support Services at The Benevolent Society