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Health & Wellbeing 17th May 2018

Taking Care of the Carer

By Sophie Hibbert

More and more we are openly talking about the importance of Mental Health, and this critical change in our culture is having a wide-reaching and positive impact. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s focus is all about stress and how we cope with it. Stress, and the resulting physical and psychological factors, can impact significantly on our mental health.

One of the most common causes of stress is work-related; that is, establishing a good work-life balance. In fact, work-related stress, depression and anxiety caused 12.5 million days sickness in 2016/17 alone.

While finding a healthy work-life balance can be difficult in almost any profession, this becomes even more challenging if your work focuses on taking care of others. Care workers, whilst also managing stress that comes from day-to-day work responsibilities, must also navigate the complex, emotional investment that comes from taking care of another person. And whilst caring is a highly rewarding role, it can also be overwhelming at times.

So to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week we wanted to remind care teams that, while you are out taking care of others every single day, it’s so important to take care of yourself too.

Below we’ve put together our five top tips for managing work-related stress:

1. Identify the cause; communicate the problem

One of our biggest tips for managing work-related stress is to try and work out exactly what it’s being caused by. Are you spending too much time working? Doing a few too many extra shifts? Are you being asked to do something you don’t feel equipped to do? Is there a specific situation or scenario that is causing you anxiety? It may not be easy to pin point the exact cause, but having an awareness of where the stress is coming from is a great first step to tackling the problem. Then communicate that problem. Talk to your line manager, your mentor or any member of staff that you feel may be able to help. Explain how you are feeling and what support you think you need. The worst thing about stress, and the resulting anxiety, is that it makes you feel isolated from others. Everyone experiences stress, and opening up and talking about the stress you’re feeling can be a great way to find the support that you need and tackle the root of the problem.

2. Live healthy

We all know we should take care of ourselves. Eat well, drink plenty of water, do exercise; we know the score. The reality is these things really do matter when it comes to tackling stress. Taking care of yourself means living healthily and when you are healthy and energised, you are much more equipped to deal with day-to-day pressures. Eating a balance diet keeps us healthy; doing exercise releases endorphins or ‘happy chemicals’ which reduce our perception of pain and triggers a positive feeling in the body; and it is well documented that good hydration helps balance cortisol (stress hormone) levels. It’s a simple tip, but it’s important. Eat well, drink your water and get yourself moving regularly. If you’re not feeling your healthiest self, managing stress becomes that much more difficult.

3. Get some sleep

This falls under taking care of yourself but we think it’s so important it needs its own section. Sleep is one of the most underrated health habits, which is surprising considering it is an essential function of our daily recovery. Sleep and stress have a two-way relationship; sleep can help to reduce stress levels, whilst high stress levels can make sleeping difficult. It is believed that most adults need 7-8 hours sleep, and without it we are more agitated, have less patience and are less able to deal with pressured and stressful situations. To make the most of the benefits of sleep, you need a good sleep routine. Set a clear bedtime and wake-up time and stick to it; allocate time before going to sleep for winding down and relaxing (keep away from screens where possible!); and avoid caffeine and other stimulants. Establishing a healthy sleep routine takes time to develop but the benefits are definitely worth the investment; just think how about how much better you feel after a good nights sleep.

4. Build and make the most of strong relationships

Stress can make you feel isolated. It gives us the impression that we are dealing with pressures that we must tackle by ourselves; which couldn’t be less true. You know the old adage “a problem shared is a problem halved”? Well research by Age UK really has found this to be true. Above, we suggested talking to people at work about your concerns, but you can also talk your close friends and family. Don’t let stress cut you off from other people, talk to those you trust about what you’re experiencing and you’ll be surprised by how much it helps. Not only that, you just might find they have the solution you’re looking for.

5. Do something just for you

Our final tip is our favourite; make time to do something just for you. This could be once a day or once a week, whichever works. As a carer, you spend most of your time taking care of others and supporting others to do what they want. This is the time when you get to do whatever you want, without interruption. This could be absolutely anything. Maybe you enjoy going to a yoga class, maybe it’s putting on your favourite TV programme or maybe it’s simply going for a walk on your own. What you do is not important. What’s important is that you understand this is purely for you, it’s the time when you get to think only of yourself and recharge your batteries.

Take care of yourself

Providing care for another person is immensely rewarding, but it does take an emotional toll. Remember that it’s perfectly normal – essential even – to take time to look after yourself. Your mental and physical wellbeing is just as important as the people you support; after all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

We hope you’re celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week too and we’d love to hear all of the top tips you have for managing work-related stress.

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