Looking After Your Needs as a Carer

Caring can be a difficult role for many of us to take on. While some carers choose to work in a caring role, for most, becoming a carer is something out of our control, a result of a diagnosis, accident or life changing event. 

For parents of children with a disability, the caring role often lasts a lifetime. In addition to the normal caring responsibilities of parenthood, parent-carers take on extra obligations to ensure their child gets the help and support they need. In many cases, this level of care does not reduce as their child grows, in direct contrast to the experience of most parents. 

While help is geared towards the person with a diagnosis or disability, it can be tough as a carer to receive adequate assistance to continue with their caring role long-term. This lack of support often results in increased anxiety, stress and overwhelm, amplifying carer fears.

Fears of parent-carers

When parents are faced for the first time with disability, they often have no idea how to manage their new life and may be afraid of the future

Parents can also have high expectations of themselves. They may expect they can be there for their child while dealing with the normal pressures of daily life (work, relationships, children, friends and hobbies). The pressure of these high expectations can result in a fear of failure.

Most parents also have fears of non-acceptance or misunderstanding from relatives, friends and society in general, because there is still a negative stigma around disability.

Caring for a child with a disability or chronic illness can be expensive when you factor in medical fees, therapy costs and the price of, health aids. The full time nature of caring also reduces the opportunity for paid work which can lead to increased fears about money and finances.

Caring for a child with a disability or chronic illness can place pressure on relationships too. Partners need to be empathetic, patient and understanding as they deal with new expectations, extra responsibilities and less time together. This is why some people fear losing their partner. 

Fears of family members

Family members who care for parents or siblings share many similar fears, including being afraid of non-acceptance from others, fearing failure, money fears and being afraid of loss. In the case of caring for older relatives and those with more complex needs, the fear of losing your loved one can be especially crippling. If your parent is in an aged care facility, you may worry about their condition and whether they are being looked after properly. This can also be the case if your parent or child are in hospital or are medically fragile or chronically ill. 

Fears of casual carers

Depending on your relationship to the person requiring care, you may be afraid of how to interact with them. If you’re a family friend or a distant relative you might not know what to expect or how to manage certain behaviours because you haven’t had a lot of first-hand experience. In most cases, it’s best to take any advice provided from close family and treat the person as you would anyone else as you get to know them and their needs better. 

Fears of professional carers

Most professional carers are experienced in caring for older, disabled or ill people, however, it can still be a challenge to meet a new client and understand their individual needs. That’s why there can be some apprehension with the first meeting

This can be heightened if relatives of the person requiring care have high expectations and exacting standards. Expectations of professional carers can sometimes be unrealistically high which can lead to a fear of failure, as they grapple with doing justice to relatives and the person they are caring for. 

Fear can lead to anxiety

With so many complex fears facing carers, it’s no wonder that many find themselves dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety. Ongoing and permanent caring responsibilities often result in increased levels of stress, especially if carers feel like they are on their own and lack support.

Many carers also have a tendency to put their needs last which results in an unbalanced and overloaded life. If this continues long term, anxiety and other mental health issues can develop and further challenge carers. 

It’s so important that every carer, whatever their situation, makes the time to take care of themselves. It’s equally important for carers to develop effective strategies to manage stress, anxiety and the fears they face in their role.  

How carers can manage anxiety

Carers need as much support as the children or adults they care for because caring for others can be a huge challenge to mental health and wellbeing. If you’re a carer who’s struggling, here are some strategies that may help:

Seek help: Talk to your GP and get a referral to a psychologist or therapist. Even if you think you know how to help yourself, it’s always best to get professional help. Don’t feel like you’re a failure as most carers need extra help and support to live their best life. 

Take time for yourself: You always want the best for your loved one but you need time for you too. Set aside 2-3 hours per week (or 30 minutes per day) and do something for you. Think sports, craft, walking, meeting friends, relaxation exercises or whatever makes you happy. 

Talk about your worries: Talking with other people will help you better deal with your anxiety. Besides professionals, talk to your family and close friends. Being open about your feelings and experiences will make it easier for them to be there and better support you.

Exercise regularly: Exercising is well known as a strategy to improve your mental health. Moving your body increases your levels of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, which alleviate anxiety and improves your mood. 

Journalling: Writing down your thoughts and worries in a journal helps identify the situations that trigger your anxiety. If you’re not familiar with journalling, seek advice from a professional who can teach you the right strategies and methods to follow.

Relaxation exercises: Meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation or autogenic training may help you focus on yourself and help calm you down. It’s important that you receive instruction from a professional so you get the most benefit from relaxation exercises.

Healthy nutrition and adequate sleep: It’s no secret that eating a healthy diet and getting a good night’s sleep can help reduce anxiety. Start by increasing your fruit and veggie intake and do what you can to try and get at least 7-9 hours sleep per night. 

Visit support groups: Connecting with others who understand your situation can help you feel listened to, understood and less alone. Find in person or online support groups to help you feel better about your situation, discover new ideas and learn better coping strategies.