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What counts as supporting or caring for someone else?

Supporting someone else is sometimes called caring. You are a carer if you provide (unpaid) support and care for someone who has an illness, disability, mental health problem or addiction. Being someone’s carer probably only describes part of your relationship with them. You may also be a parent, partner, sister, brother, child, friend or other family member. Supporting others can be mentally and physically exhausting. The time you spend caring can really vary too – some people look after someone for just a short time and others find themselves caring for someone for the long term.

Caring can mean a range of things. Being patient and giving can feel like part of the normal give and take of any relationship, but sometimes you might find yourself spending a lot more time and effort helping someone else. You may provide a range of support including: giving emotional support, helping someone else to seek help for a mental health problem, helping someone cope with a mental health problem, cooking and cleaning, personal care like washing and going to the toilet, supporting them to live with others in your family (e.g. brothers and sisters), helping other family members understand the needs of the person you are caring for, giving medicine or providing medical care, going to appointments and advocating on their behalf (helping them express their views and wishes), checking they are safe, as well as others.

How can supporting someone else affect your mental health?

Supporting someone else can affect your mental health and make it harder to stay well. Although you may really want to care for them, you may also find it difficult and upsetting. There are numerous challenges which you may face, these may include: stress and worry, anxiety, less time for yourself, isolation, money worries, lack of sleep, depression, frustration, anger and guilt, and low self-esteem. Although these challenges may seem overwhelming, there are many tips, techniques and support out there for you to use. It is just as important to look after yourself and your wellbeing too.

How can I look after myself?

As a carer you spend a lot of your time focusing on someone else. You may feel as if you just have no time at all for yourself. But looking after your own wellbeing is important for you and for them. Here are some suggestions that others have said they find helpful. Even just choosing one small thing to change might help you feel more able to cope.

Talk about how you feel: It can be really important to have someone to talk to, especially if you are struggling to cope. It may help you to share your feelings with someone you trust, or you could join a support group for carers, there are also numerous carer’s forums and online communities.

Ask for help if you need it: Most carers need some additional support. Think about whether family and friends could help you. People don’t always know what they can do to help but may be happy to lend a hand if you can tell them what you need. Your employer may also be able to help more than you think. You have a right to ask for flexible working hours if you have caring responsibilities.

Be realistic: If you take on too much, you may feel as if you never achieve anything. If you have a clear idea about what you can do, and accept the parts that you can’t change or do alone, you may feel more able to cope.

Stay organised: Staying organised can help you feel more in control. You could keep a schedule or planner of your daily routine and make sure that you keep all important information and medication in one place. But don’t beat yourself up if you get muddled or things get lost. You’ve got a lot to think about.

Support their independence: Work with them to see how they can help themselves and work out what support they need from you and whether there are times that they can cope on their own. It’s important to help them have some control over their care. You may find this means taking a step back or supporting decisions that are not what you would do. But it can also mean that you are able to find a balance in your relationship and perhaps a little more time for yourself.

Take a break and make time for yourself: Try and take a break, especially if you are worried about your own mental health. You may not be able to take a break every time you need one but it’s important to have some time that’s yours. You may need an hour or two to clear your head or a day to help you feel more rested. You could go out, take a bath or turn your phone off for an agreed period of time. Try to make time for things you enjoy.

If possible, try and plan regular breaks into your routine. This can help you make plans in advance, give you something to look forward to and make sure the person you look after knows what to expect. Sometimes you may need a longer break, especially if you are worried that you are becoming unwell.

Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can make it more difficult to cope with day to day challenges and can make stress and depression worse. Ensure you get a goodnight’s sleep, it will help you think clearer and put everything in perspective.

Learn a relaxation or mindfulness technique: Relaxation techniques can help you feel more rested. Have a look at our pages on relaxation and mindfulness. Most of these techniques can be done for just a few minutes each day.

Look after your physical health: It’s important to try and make time to look after your physical health as best you can. Try and eat as healthily as you can and do some kind of regular physical activity. Our information pages on “food and mood” and “body and mind have suggestions to help you fit things into a busy daily routine.

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