2) Looking after your own health and well being
Being a carer will involve different experiences for individual carers but there are some common themes. To be able to function as a carer you need to be aware of the effect this is having on your own health and well being. Caring for someone after a stroke can be very rewarding but it can be physically and emotionally demanding. If you have any concerns about your own health as a result of your carer role ask for help from your GP, stroke nurse, community physiotherapist or local carers centre.
Do’s and Don’ts when looking after your own health and well being
- Do eat well. You need to have energy to cope with your care role and sometimes you may miss a meal or just snack and pick at foods rather than taking a real break and giving yourself time to relax, enjoy and digest your food.
- Do try to get enough sleep and rest. If you are having disturbed nights because of worry or your sleep pattern has changed because the person you care for needs attention at night this will leave you exhausted very quickly. There are practical things to try. Tell your GP if the person is not sleeping well and disturbing you – there may be a medical reason. See 10 tips to beat insomnia. If you have suffered from sleep loss for a long time there are treatments to try which your GP can refer you to.
- Do exercise when you can. You need to be fit to be able to care for the person. Exercise is good for you physically and mentally. Even if you feel tired try to fit in a brisk walk every day and you will feel the benefits in time. Muscle strength, circulation and heart will improve. Build up gradually and if possible exercise together to keep you both motivated. If you can’t set aside exercise time, try to get off the bus a stop earlier, walk up stairs and walk to the shop rather than use the car for short journeys.
- Do try and pace yourself. Work out what is essential and important to you and the person you care for. Allow your self more time to complete tasks. Get help if you are struggling to do the essentials. Reorganise tasks. You do not have to be a perfectionist all the time.
- Don’t ignore back and joint pain – Very common among carers. This can be acute pain which is treatable with advice from your GP or practice nurse and over the counter medication from your local pharmacy. Or chronic pain which is caused by a series of injuries and can be much more difficult to treat. Get help as soon as you have a back or joint problem. Ask for help to get training in correct moving and handling techniques. Your local carer center may have courses. Or if possible in your own home to give a realistic assessment of the space you have and any equipment you need or may have but are not using correctly.
- Don’t forget to keep good posture. When you are tired you are more likely to slouch and our body’s posture is important for functioning well.
- Don’t ignore your own health needs. For example if you are not feeling well see your doctor. Many illnesses are easier to treat if you go to the doctor earlier for an opinion. If the person you care for has a flu jab you should consider having or asking for a jab too, it will help protect both of you.
- Don’t forget you need time to relax everyday. Try to give yourself some “me time” Listen to music, read a book, watch your favorite television programme or phone a friend.If you are feeling especially stressed try to learn a relaxation technique. See NHS UK and the section on Relaxation and dealing with stress on this website.