A caregiver's guide to caring for yourself

If you're a carer, it can be easy to forget to care for yourself. Here are some simple ways to make 'me time' every day. 

My mother had a stroke almost two years ago and I had no idea what a life-changing moment this would be for both of us.

I had been caring for my widowed, 91-year-old mother for a number of years and although she had a few medical issues, I was able to live my busy life as normal while helping her with specialists’ appointments, shopping and minor household chores.

The emergency: Looking after a loved one

Everything changed, however, when mum had a stroke. She spent three weeks in hospital and needed months of rehabilitation. Although she progressed well, she was tired, confused and slept a lot. She required more care than normal, and being the sole carer I needed to move in with her for six weeks and put my business on hold.

Woman meditating

Warning signals: Looking after yourself

During my mother’s recovery I began to feel overwhelmed. The anxiety and stress of caring for her and trying to keep on top of my own life was taking its toll. I spoke to my doctor, who suggested I make an effort to take time out every day for my own wellbeing. I learnt that ‘me time’ would be important for coping with the considerable mental, physical and emotional demands ahead.

Taking ‘me time’

Here are some simple ways to take ‘me time’ every day so you can also care for yourself.

Take 5

Find a quiet corner with a comfortable chair away from any distractions. Close your eyes, relax, breathe slowly and deeply, and think of something that says ‘calm’ or ‘peaceful’ to you.

Or, if you can go outdoors, focus on a flower, leaf, cloud or insect. Just watch and observe it as if you’re seeing it for the first time. This is a great way to connect with the natural environment and draw a sense of peace from it.

This is a great way to connect with the natural environment and draw a sense of peace from it.

Take 10

Ten minutes can do wonders. Lie on the floor with both legs resting on a chair and spread your arms on the floor, palms up. Close your eyes, breathe normally and think of a relaxing situation.

Take 30

Pick a time and place where you won’t be disturbed, lie down somewhere comfortable (throw a rug over yourself if you’re cold) and listen to relaxing music or follow mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness is designed to help reduce stress, increase self-awareness and enable you to handle painful feelings and thoughts effectively.

As carers, we tend to throw ourselves into our roles with such zeal that we forget to pace ourselves. We sometimes ignore warning signs and neglect our health, forgetting that we can’t be much help to a loved one if we fall ill. I’m reminded of the instructions for dealing with oxygen masks during emergencies on planes: “Always secure your own mask first, then help children or other people.”

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