When the conversation is so often about the person you’re caring for, this Carers Week, let’s talk about you.
As a carer for someone living with dementia, a huge amount of your time often goes towards the person you care for.
On top of that, you’re probably told that it’s important to look after yourself as well. That you have to eke even more time out of the compressed hours you have available to you to practise self care and wellbeing.
Self care and wellbeing are incredibly important; they will help you to be happier, healthier, and a better carer to your loved one. But we know looking after yourself can feel like an overwhelming addition to your routine when you already have so much on your plate, so we’ve put together 7 steps to looking after yourself while caring for someone else.
1. Know that ‘self care’ can consist of small and inexpensive steps
In today’s world, the term ‘self care’ has taken on a slightly glamourised meaning, but you don’t have to buy an expensive gym membership or go to a spa to practise self care. It’s just about looking out for your own wellbeing, and this can be as small and simple as finding 5 minutes to sit and read your book or paying an extra £0.50 to get the good biscuits.
2. Identify the barriers
Identify some specific barriers that are stopping you from taking time to look after yourself. Is it that the person you care for can’t be left alone, or has trouble sleeping through the night? Maybe it’s difficult for the both of you to get out the house together? Breaking it down will make it easier to identify whether there are solutions to each individual obstacle.
3. Acknowledge any feelings of guilt you may have
Caring for someone with dementia can be very challenging, but sometimes it can feel like a betrayal to admit that. It’s common for carers to feel guilt around how they care and whether they’re doing it well; acknowledging these feelings can help to manage that guilt, and can be empowering in that it makes it easier to rationalise them.
Talk to your friends and family about how you’re feeling, or join a local dementia support group so you can talk to people in a similar situation. This kind of support can make a world of difference.
4. Be patient with yourself
Your commitment to looking after yourself may be new, and like all new things takes practice. It may take a while to identify what makes you feel good and what fulfils your needs when you’re used to putting the needs of others first 100% of the time. Come up with some habits you want to build into your day, but don’t feel let down if these habits don’t end up working for you and you end up needing to change them. Self care means something different for everyone.
5. Ask for help
Whether it’s family members or friends, you might be surprised by how willing people are to step up when you ask them for help with specific tasks. Carers often believe that needing help means they’re failing in some way, but everyone needs help sometimes. Try asking someone if they could take on your shopping list, or sit for an hour with the person you care for. In the same way that you wouldn’t judge someone else if they asked you for help, they won’t be judging you.
If you don’t feel you can speak to the people you know, or if you consistently feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, talk to your GP. They’re there to help you and will be able to point you towards resources that you can use to ease your situation.
6. Start engaging with nature
Did you know that just 15 minutes of engaging with nature is good for your health and wellbeing? Research shows that connection to nature can improve sleep, communication skills, memory, and mood, while also reducing anxiety and agitation.
Connecting to nature doesn’t have to involve day trips to National Parks or mile-long hikes. Nature can be found close to home, or even inside your house! In fact, we’ve written a whole blog post on Tips for Connecting with Nature on Your Doorstep.
7. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day
There will be some days where you’re not able to find the time or the mental space to look after yourself. When that happens, don’t be hard on yourself. Self care isn’t a task that you have to tick off a list; it’s a part of your life, and like all aspects of life, it ebbs and flows. If your goal of tending to the garden for 10 minutes today didn’t happen, don’t beat yourself up. You can aim to do it tomorrow instead.