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As a society, we try to make sure that the most vulnerable amongst us are properly looked after. Sometimes though, the needs of those who put so much time and energy into looking after others don’t seem to get much attention. But who cares for the carer when it all gets a bit too much?
As care workers, we have to deal with much more than most in our daily work – from helping patients bathe, or go to the loo, to listening to worries and concerns. It’s easy to see why so many caregivers end up burning out, but if we can better understand the symptoms of stress ad exhaustion, we can nip it in the bud before it becomes a bigger issue.
Stress can be a debilitating thing, but it’s actually a reaction that is ultimately designed to protect us – it’s the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome we are programmed with. We feel this way because our mind has perceived a threat to our wellbeing and told our body to respond to that. But nowadays it’s not always possible to change the situation that is causing the stressful response, and as a result we can end up feeling unhappy or unable to cope. Chronic fatigue, heightened emotion, frequent headaches and recurring illness are all key indicators of stress – and it’s important to acknowledge them as soon as possible. For a long while, we tend to accept the situation for what it is, ignoring the signs that we are in need of a break.
It’s important to make time for yourself when you feel things are getting on top of you. What are your hobbies? Is there anything that you used to participate in but you feel you can’t make the time for this anymore? Set some time aside, put this in your diary, and make sure you have a set period to do something you really enjoy.
If you prefer a group setting, there will be something to get involved with no matter what your age, whether this is sport and exercise or another social activity. Arts and crafts, book clubs, walking groups and dance classes are all excellent ways of getting a bit of social interaction and having fun. In fact, just being in a social setting can often improve our moods. Use this as your time to have some fun and concentrate on what you enjoy.
Studies have shown that exercise is just as effective as medication. This doesn’t mean you should aim to run a marathon each week, but even gentle activity can help to clear your mind. As we become more mindful of taking care of our minds and bodies, the popularity of classes like yoga, pilates and meditation has increased. With that said though, don’t overlook the power of a long walk, swim or leisurely bike ride – anything that increases your heart rate will make you feel better all round.
Research shows that up to 70% of caregivers have clinical symptoms of depression, with one quarter of those meeting the diagnostic criteria for severe depression. By nature, a carer is just that – an exceptionally caring person who puts others’ needs above their own. But it’s important to remember that our own health and mental wellbeing is just as important as the person in need of care, as this can have an impact on the both of you.
Everybody needs a kind ear every now and then. If you can talk to a friend or colleague, having some support can make a big difference. Many employers offer counselling to their carers as part of their package – don’t ever be afraid to ask for this help. Even if you’re just feeling a bit overwhelmed or pressured, it always helps to talk it out and gain a bit of perspective on the matter. It’s also worth checking out some self-help blogs or books to help you understand and manage your feelings. Always prioritise your own mental health – it’s key to helping you maintain a successful career in care.
Finally, no matter what your circumstances, always remember that you are doing a brilliant job. As a carer you’re making a huge difference to others lives, doing a job that many others wouldn’t be able to.