Carers and family members often find themselves at the breaking point. Use these strategies to spoil yourself and make sure you care for yourself as well.
A carer needs to be aware of the cumulative effects of daily stressors and use strategies to reduce the impact of stress. Too much stress can have a negative impact on health, so carers (like everyone else) need to maintain regular exercise, a balanced diet, regular sleep and rest and relaxation.
Other useful strategies to work on include problem-solving on major issues, investigating and altering irrational beliefs, stress-reducing self-talk and meditation.
Dealing with stress
A balanced life can go a long way to reducing stress. To last the long haul, carers need to balance their needs along with those of their loved one, developing a lifestyle that balances caring with family, hobbies, socialising and work. Time management, goal setting and organisation can help to reduce stressors, create time for enjoyable activities and maintain social support.
Long-term carers find that surviving is a matter of taking time out for themselves. Respite care is an essential part of the overall support that families often need. It can be provided in the client’s home or in a variety of out of home settings. Since not all families have the same needs, respite care is usually flexible to fit in with a family’s requirements.
Dealing with difficult feelings
Guilt, anger, resentment, fear, stress, anxiety, depression and grief are some of the emotions that will be encountered while caring for someone with a brain injury. With time, the worst of these feelings will go. It is normal to feel as if you are going crazy at times, and it does not help to try to suppress or deny what you are feeling. There is a reason you are feeling this way, and this will lessen when your body is ready.
The best way to deal with your feelings is to accept them, but make sure you can talk about your feelings with someone who understands, whether it is a family member, friend, counsellor or support group. Always seek professional assistance if you feel you can’t get past these issues.
Reasonable expectations of yourself
Avoid the superhero attitude! You may try to undertake all the caring whilst being a model of patience, courage, understanding and support and sacrificing yourself in the process. Be prepared for times when you feel like quitting, yelling, leaving and breaking down. The caring role is similar to running a marathon – you need to pace yourself for the long haul. Trying too hard in the early stages may mean you lose all your energy further down the track when your caring may be more crucial.
Why join a support group? You can meet others in a similar position, have a break, get information and get support from others who have a shared experience. Sharing ideas, feelings, worries, information and problems can help you feel less isolated. Sometimes family and friends don’t understand the condition of the person you are caring for. People in the support group will often understand. Support groups bring together carers in local areas, sometimes under the guidance of a facilitator who is experienced in supporting carers. Often other carers or workers are invited to present information and training. Call StrokeLine 1800 STROKE (787 653) we can help put you in touch with carer support groups in your area.
Counselling involves talking to someone who understands and can work with you to give you the encouragement, support and ideas to improve your situation. It can be a way to assist with the many changes in your relationships and roles, as well as dealing with the strong feelings associated with caring. Call StrokeLine 1800 STROKE (787 653) we can put you in touch with support groups or organisations who can provide counselling or other psychological assistance.
Planning for health
Regular exercise, rest and nutritious food are all necessary in order to withstand stress. Try to plan your day so you get all three. Walking, swimming, yoga, gardening or dancing are good ways to get some gentle exercise. Learning to relax by listening to pleasant music, meditating or doing specific relaxation exercises can help you sleep better.
At some point, carers may find themselves unhappy with the level of support from a particular hospital, health professional or welfare association. You have the right to expect appropriate support and treatment, and should be assertive in claiming what you want.
There are grievance procedures and appeal processes in most cases. Your Brain Injury or Stroke Association or call StrokeLine 1800 STROKE (787 653) may be able to assist, or link you with advocacy organisations.
Keeping friendships and interests
Try to relax and enjoy yourself. Maintain an identity of your own separate from the person you care for. Try to keep your links to the world outside caring. Absorbing interests, having fun and relaxation are all good for your physical and mental health. Be aware that some friends may tire of you talking about the hassles of being a carer. Some carers can become resentful and lose friends by expecting them to provide more support than they are willing to give. Where possible, seek support from other carers and don’t expect too much from friends - even if it means pretending to be interested in things other than your own problems as a carer.
This story was first seen in the Synapse bridge magazine www.synapse.org.au