Professor Browning has a PhD from La Trobe University and is recognised as a national and international leader in psychology and health with a special focus on healthy ageing. She is also an Honorary Professor at Australian National University.

Caring for a partner or loved one can be demanding – emotionally, physically and financially. If you’re a carer, it’s also really important to look after yourself.

Caregivers can often ignore their own health concerns because their energies are focused on their loved one. While caregiving can be emotionally rewarding, it is not unusual to feel stressed, tired, frustrated and alone. Caregivers will often forgo their social networks and find it difficult to engage in activities to promote their own health and wellbeing.

Does this sound familiar to you?

There are a number of a signs that indicate caregiver stress:

  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Constant worrying
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Changes in weight
  • Increase in alcohol or drug consumption
  • Increase in bodily aches and pains
  • Feeling sad or isolated

Continued caregiver stress can lead to depression and anxiety. If you are caring for someone living with dementia, you’re more likely to experience a depression that is exacerbated by dementia-related symptoms, including wandering and agitation.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of depression can include behaviour changes, physical symptoms, and negative thoughts and feelings.

Do you recognise the following changes in behaviour or physical symptoms in yourself?

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Reduced ability to concentrate
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite

Do you recognise the following feelings or negative thoughts in yourself?

  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Worthlessness

If you are worried, and recognise these symptoms in you or a loved one, it’s time to speak with a doctor. Your doctor can assess these signs and symptoms and provide you with a care plan to manage them.

Effective tools for self-care

If you’ve figured out that you’re struggling as a carer and need to take better steps towards self-care, these are some simple and effective tools to start you on your way.

Tool 1: Reducing personal stress

The stress you feel is not only the result of your caregiving situation, but also the result of your perception of it, so it’s really important to try and keep in mind that you’re not alone in your experiences.

To help manage your stress, recognise the warning signs early. Are you struggling to sleep or feeling irritable? Try not to wait until you’re overwhelmed before acting to make changes. Once you identify the sources of stress, you can also begin to work out what you can and can’t change. Taking action will help you feel more in control.

Tool 2: Setting goals

Setting goals and accomplishments is an important step in taking care of yourself. These goals could include taking a break from caregiving (if possible), getting help with caregiving tasks and engaging in healthy activities.

Tool 2: Setting goals

Setting goals and accomplishments is an important step in taking care of yourself. These goals could include taking a break from caregiving (if possible), getting help with caregiving tasks and engaging in healthy activities.

Tool 3: Seeking solutions

Once you’ve identified a problem, taking actions to change the situation and your feelings towards it can help to give you more confidence in your abilities.

After identifying the problem, as you work through various solutions talk to trusted friends, family members or a doctor to see if they can help. Sometimes, when you’re in the thick of a situation, it’s really hard to see beyond it, so any support from an outside perspective can be helpful.

Tool 4: Communicating constructively

When you communicate in a way that’s clear, assertive and constructive, you’re more likely to be heard and to get the help and support you need. Whether using “I” instead of “you” when expressing your feelings, or simply being as specific as possible when speaking to others, you’ll be on the right track to good communication.

Tool 5: Asking for and accepting help

As tough as it can be sometimes, don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed and exhausted before asking for help; reaching out when you need it is a sign of personal strength.

Tool 6: Talking to a doctor

While as a caregiver you may be regularly discussing your loved one’s care needs with a doctor, you may find you’re neglecting to consider your own health as well – which is equally important. If you do decide to speak to a doctor, prepare questions ahead of time so you’re better equipped to talk through your needs. If you’re feeling nervous, take someone with you for support.

Tool 7: Starting to exercise

Exercise promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression, and increases energy and alertness. If finding time to exercise is tough – as it can be when we are time- poor – do your best to incorporate it into your daily activity.

From walking whenever possible, to getting outside for activities with friends, or even simply starting the day with a stretch, there are lots of ways to get your body moving.

Tool 8: Learning from our emotions

Our emotions are messages that we need to listen to, as they’re useful tools for understanding what’s happening to us. Caregiving often involves a range of emotions, and some are more comfortable to experience than others.

When we feel like the emotions are intense, it may be due to grieving a loss, an increase in stress or the need to change our situation. Consider each of these if you’re finding things difficult.

What to remember

It’s important to remember that focusing on your own needs and desires as a caregiver isn’t selfish – it’s a big part of the job. You’re responsible for your own self-care, so do your best to focus on the following self-care practices.

  • Learn and use stress-reduction techniques like meditation and Tai Chi
  • Attend to your own healthcare needs
  • Get proper rest and nutrition
  • Exercise regularly, even if it’s only for 10 minutes at a time
  • Take time off when possible without feeling guilty
  • Seek and accept the support of others
  • Consider getting supportive counselling
  • Identify and acknowledge your feelings
  • Set goals

For more information, call the Five Good Friends and Apia Care Advice line on 1300 50 27 42.