Looking after someone who requires day-to-day care can be a rewarding but exhausting experience. Carers work tirelessly to help others and it can end up taking its toll on health, mental wellbeing and relationships.
It is important to look after yourself if you are to continue providing the essential care of your loved one, so take a look at these practical tips on staying fit and well.
The long and often unsociable hours and many demands placed upon carers means finding time to exercise or de-stress can be difficult. But it is essential that you are fit and healthy in order to be able to perform those daily tasks.
Eating well is an easy way to keep yourself in good shape, and a balanced diet will go a long way to maintaining a healthy mind and body, including plenty of fruit and veg, starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta and rice, protein and dairy. Wholegrain bread, cereal or pasta is a better option as it is high in fibre and contains B vitamins as well as calcium and iron. While it is best not to cut out any food groups entirely, try to cut back on salt, sugar and saturated fats. These can increase your cholesterol level, and thereby increase the risk of heart disease.
Regular exercise will not only keep you physically healthy, but will help to relieve stress and to clear your head of the day-to-day strain. Aim for five, 30-minute sessions of moderate exercise each week, and remember that daily activities such as housework, gardening and walking count, just as long as you're breathing more heavily than usual.
A good night's sleep is also essential, both for your physical and mental health, but it can be difficult to relax when you are responsible for someone who needs care 24/7. If you have trouble sleeping try some deep breathing exercises to help you relax, and if you are unable to get enough sleep because of regular nighttime duties, you must speak to your local authority about getting help.
It is often the case that being a carer puts pressure on relationships with partners, children or other family members. Try to be open and honest with your family about your feelings and frustrations, as this communication can strengthen bonds and enable others feel involved in your life. It may also help them to understand the pressures you are under personally.
However, if you are finding it impossible to spend quality time with your partner or children, consider discussing the situation with a social worker. A carer's assessment may result in respite care being offered.
Time for yourself
One of the big problems with being a carer is that time off can be almost impossible, but taking a break is important for your health and wellbeing.
The Carers Equal Opportunities Act (2004) was introduced to give carers a better work life balance, and affords you the right to ask the patient's local authority to conduct a carer's assessment. This is designed to establish your personal needs, from health concerns to work and education opportunities, as well as leisure time. It may result in you being given time off from being a carer or getting help on a regular basis.
The majority of carers love their work and despite the pressures and strains of caring for someone else, are often reluctant to ask for help. But if you are struggling to cope or your health or quality of life is suffering, Carers Direct can offer free, confidential support and advice on 0800 802 0202.
Are you a carer? How do you cope with health, relationships and long hours? Leave your comments below...