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Caring for the carer

A lot of you will have heard this during the safety instructions on a plane.

However, if you are a carer for a partner, friend, child, sibling, parent or neighbour, particularly when the caring is long-term, this might sound rather counter intuitive. Caring for someone with a disability, a progressively deteriorating chronic condition, a mental illness or someone of frail age is a demanding role while juggling other aspects of life such as work or children. On the other hand, caring with love and compassion is also for many people a rewarding role.

The hardest work is probably looking after your own health (emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually). Your personal sense of well being is crucial if you would like to continue being a supportive carer. For many carers taking the initial step with well being activities is difficult as the human mind can become very ‘chatty’ and attempt to keep us from doing the things we deep down know we need to be able to support others. So don’t take your mind too seriously and say ‘no’ to getting involved in its chatter.

Here are some suggestions to burnout-proof yourself:

  1. Laugh, even when there is no reason. Moving the laughter muscles will neutralize tension in the body. Take time to watch a funny movie or laugh with a friend on the phone.

  2. Become good at saying ‘no’. Practice will help you master this skill. Identify situations where you habitually say ‘yes’ and notice if you become resentful. It’s a clear sign that you have taken on too much.

  3. Identify when you are ‘rescuing’: e.g. when you assume the other person is helpless or you do things that the other person can do for themselves.

  4. Learn a mindfulness tool to help when your feel overwhelmed. A very simple one is STOP – Stop, Take a breath, Open your senses (see and hear what’s around you), Proceed with your task. Get into the routine of using ‘STOP’ many times throughout the day.

  5. Accept help from friends, family members and professionals so you can have break for a few minutes, hours or a day or two. Ask yourself ‘would I help them, if they asked me?’

  6. Exercise: It has a positive impact on both your physical and emotional well being. During the day, aim for small junks of a type of exercise you like. Walk, run, jog, swim, garden or learn yoga. It’s a natural way to relax body and mind.

  7. Be aware of the mind’s ‘Selfish talk’, something that many carers experience. Acknowledge it, but don’t let it guide your own well being plan.

  8. Join a support group, online or face to face. Sharing with others is something that many carers value as it takes off some of the load. Allow yourself to join and listen to the experiences of others. Share only once you feel safe in the group.

  9. Make a list of activities that you used to enjoy and add some that you think you might enjoy. Aim to do a longer one every week and a short one most days (e.g. sit in the sun for 5 minutes or enjoy your coffee with all your senses).

  10. Let yourself be touched. A regular massage or a reflexology treatment might help to develop a sense of well being and is something to look forward to.

  11. If you know someone who is a carer provide encouragement and talk about the importance of self-care. Offer practical help and an emphatic ear so they find it easier to take the first step.

  12. Talk it over: Caring often brings up conflicting feelings, a sense of helplessness and grief. A psychologist or counsellor can help becoming calmer again, assist with stress management techniques and will be a sounding board when you need to make decisions that are appropriate for your personal situation. Talking it over when the care role ends might help process what has been and develop a new outlook for the future. If it is difficult for you to have face to face support, ask for phone or skype conversations.

Claudia Gross -Registered Psychologist

Claudia is a caring psychologist who understands and has a special interest in working with carers.

Please ring Claudia on 0408 428 110 to arrange an initial chat – obligation free and at no cost. Available by appointment. Registered with medicare and major private health funds and DVA. Reasonable fees. Skype sessions available.

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