According to Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are approximately 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia. Being a carer can be physically and emotionally exhausting and many carers report that they find they experience some sort of carer’s fatigue.
Many people often become a carer and don’t even realise that they have assumed this role. For most people, the role of carer also happens when they already have a myriad of other responsibilities such as work, school, university, parenting or being a partner.
Carer’s fatigue is a real issue as it is hard to maintain a positive attitude when you are feeling physically and/or emotionally exhausted.
Some of the challenges of being a carer
When people take on the role of carer it often means they must ‘give up’ another part of their life that is important to them. Whilst most carers say they do so willingly, there is still an element of grieving. Many carers report feeling loss at changes to the way they live their lives including:
- Social life and friendships
- Freedom (Particularly in relation to opportunities in their career or education)
- Sense of identity – as the focus is on the recipient of care
- Financial security might be affected as employment options change
- Expectations for both might go unfulfilled, or the relationship with the loved one may have changed
Research conducted by Carers Australia found carers had the lowest wellbeing of any large group in Australia.
Health impacts are many and varied but can include:
Being chronically tired as a result of broken sleep and a lack of time for themselves can increase the risk of becoming unwell. Similarly, the ability to eat healthy food can also be reduced. Physical health issues such as back and neck problems are common in carers whose role requires them to lift and carry.
As mentioned above, many carers find themselves thrust into the caring role and may not have had a choice to do so. This lack of choice, coupled with the suddenness, that often goes with becoming a carer, can generate strong emotions like anger and frustration. This anger and frustration may manifest itself in the carer taking their anger and frustration out on the people around them including the person they are caring for. Feelings of guilt also frequently accompany such emotion. The incidence of depression is also high in people who fill the role of carer, along with drug and alcohol issues and in extreme cases a risk of self-harm or suicide. It’s important to recognise if you’re experiencing carer’s fatigue before you let it take an extreme toll on your emotional health.
The demands of being a carer can impact on time with friends and family. It can also be difficult to prioritise opportunities associated with work and recreation. This can quietly erode connections with others, and even confidence socially.
Often carers, are on lower incomes. This is most likely because their caring role doesn’t allow them to fully participate in paid employment. The basics might be difficult to cover let alone the extra costs related to healthcare, travel, medications etc.
Self-care is essential in overcoming carer’s fatigue
“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brown
Consider for a moment the advice given prior to a plane flight. The flight attendant instructs everyone on board to “put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others”. Self-care is carers putting on their oxygen masks on first.
The following strategies are just some of the ways in which carers can be supported to look after themselves so that they can continue with their important and essential caring duties:
1. Talk about how you are feeling with someone you trust
As a carer you need to have someone to talk to. Often if your symptoms of grief are not acknowledged they will build up and can express themselves as feelings of sadness, resentment, and physical issues such as changes in sleeping and eating.
If you haven’t got someone to share with then begin to identify who you can talk to. You may want to get involved in a support group for carer’s, or open up to family and friends you feel comfortable with. Carers Queensland offers a range of information and support services specifically for people who find themselves experience carer’s fatigue.
2. Plan timeout
Fortunately, breaks are an inherent part of the Australian working culture. We know that people are more efficient and happier when they have time out. However, it is sometimes difficult to get carers to take a break. Even though most carers have worked out how to push through the exhaustion, this isn’t a good long-term solution.
It is also useful to remember that the person being cared for can benefit from being engaged in social activities independent of their carer.
Activities you might like to try to have some ‘timeout’ could include:
- Having a bath
- Getting out in nature – such as sitting by the beach
- Catch-up with friends
- Try something new, like yoga
- Take a holiday
Don’t wait until someone notices you need help. Ask family or friends or organise day respite if possible.
3. Look after your health
This will require planning but it can make a big difference to alleviating some of the side effects of carer’s fatigue. Make sure you eat well, get a good amount of sleep and exercise regularly. It’s also important that you learn how to relax, such as through mindfulness techniques, and keep as organised as realistically possible to help with your stress levels.
4. Be vigilant
We have covered the risk to your health, and the why and how you can take better care of yourself. But as you know this is a long distance run and not a sprint, so remain vigilant about your own needs. The best way to do this is by staying connected – in particular ensuring you have people you can speak openly with.