The importance of self-care for caregivers 

A young woman giving themselves a hug while smiling

By Skills for Health | 10 July 2024

Caregivers play an important role in society. They look after those who need help with daily activities, providing them with support to live as independently as possible.  

This can range from helping people get out of bed in the morning, cooking meals and cleaning up, to providing much needed emotional support.  

Caring for others is admirable and selfless. It can be incredibly hard at times too. That’s why it’s important to consider how can carers look after themselves to avoid running on empty, ensuring they have enough in the tank to care for someone else, as well as themselves.  

What is a caregiver?  

The NHS defines a caregiver as “anyone who looks after a family member, partner or friend who needs help because of their illness, frailty, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction and cannot cope without their support.”  This includes young adults and even children, who may conceal their duties as caregivers due to fear of separation, guilt or other reasons.  

Unpaid carers often combine their caring responsibilities with full or part-time employment and don’t always acknowledge or see themselves as carers, instead viewing caring for their loved ones as a given.  

Professional careers are paid to provide a range of care services, including companionship care, respite care, dementia care, palliative care and end of life care, to name a few.  

What types of caregivers are there?   

If you want to embark on a career as a professional career, there’s a number of different entry routes. The national careers service offers information on how to get started on your journey to becoming a care worker.  

You can get into care work through 

  • a college course 
  • an apprenticeship 
  • volunteering 
  • applying directly. 

In the UK, it’s estimated there are over 10 million unpaid carers (Carers Week 2022 report) unpaid care givers looking after their loved ones. 

Importance of self-care 

Caring for others is often demanding, both physically and mentally. For caregivers, knowing the importance of self-care and recognising when it’s needed is hugely important. The better self-care carers exercise, the better care they can give to others.  

Physical health 

Caring for someone can be physically demanding, often requiring considerable effort to assist with daily activities such as lifting, moving, and supporting mobility. Over time, these tasks can cause physical strain and fatigue, leading to potential health issues such as back pain and muscle strain.  

Ways carers can look after their physical health include  

  • Speaking to healthcare experts about what exercises can be done to reduce long-term mobility issues.  
  • Maintaining a nutritious diet that can be easily followed.  
  • Attending routine health checks to spot any early signs of ill-health. 
  • Creating a restful environment to improve sleep quality. 

Mental and emotional health 

Caregivers can experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and sometimes depression. The responsibility and emotional toll can lead to burnout, which often presents itself as physical and mental exhaustion. 

With proper self-care, emotional wellbeing can be preserved and protected. Some things carers can practice include: 

  • Introducing mindfulness practices and meditation as tools for reducing stress and enhancing emotional resilience. 
  • Staying connected with friends and family. Join support groups or online communities where caregivers can share experiences and advice. 
  • Seeking help from mental health professionals when needed. 
  • Asking loved ones for support and accessing respite care where possible.  

Quality of care 

A carer’s wellbeing directly influences the quality of care they can provide. By taking care of their own health and well-being, carers can ensure they remain attentive, patient, and capable of providing high-quality care. Good self-care practices enable carers to be more present and engaged, ultimately benefiting both themselves and those they care for. 

Caring is often a long-term commitment, sometimes lasting for years. To sustain this level of commitment, carers need to maintain their own health and well-being. Without self-care, the risk of burnout increases, which can lead to the carer being unable to continue their role, thereby compromising the support system of the person being cared for.  

Regular self-care practices help prevent burnout by ensuring that carers recharge and rejuvenate, allowing them to continue providing care without compromising their own health. Sustainable caring is only possible when carers prioritise their own needs alongside those of their loved ones or patients.  

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