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If you're a carer, much of your life is dedicated to another person. It's rewarding, but it can be exhausting too. Here, we look at how carers can look after themselves, so your quality of life isn't diminished while you do so much for others'.

When you care for another person, it's both rewarding and challenging. It can put a lot of strain on both your mental and physical wellbeing.

A report issued by Carers UK showed that 21% of carers providing more than 50 hours of care report being in poor health. This compares with 11% of non-carers from the same survey. More than double the carer population between the age of 35 and 44 years report being in poor health, compared with their same-age peers without caring responsibilities.

If you're a carer, one of the most important things you can do - for you, and the person you're caring for - is to look after your own wellbeing.

Here's how you can look after yourself as a carer.

Take care of your finances

Financial worries are a major cause of stress and depression. To avoid unnecessary additional stressors, try the following steps:

  • Before you give up work, check whether your employer would consider flexible working. Flexible working, combined with home-care support from your local authority, might allow you to remain in work. In the UK, employers must consider requests for flexible working from carers, and must have a valid reason to deny your request. If you don't think the request is valid, you can appeal. Flexible working is also available in the US, but is not a guaranteed right.
  • Look into benefits, for both you and the person you're caring for, such as Carer's Allowance (in the UK and Australia), and Medicaid and Disability (in the US).
  • If your relative/friend has dementia or Alzheimer's, look into a Lasting Power of Attorney, so that you can manage bank accounts, utilities, and benefits when they're not able to handle forms and finances by themselves anymore.

Get some emotional support

Caring for someone can be a deeply isolating experience. You can feel as though you're losing a part of yourself.

It's important that you seek emotional support so that doesn't happen.

  • Join a local carer's group. There may be a local organisation for carers looking after people with your loved one's particular health problem, such as dementia, or Parkinson's disease. However, connecting to anyone who cares for someone else will help bring you out of your isolation. Normally, carer's organisations have social meetings, such as coffee mornings, which are a great opportunity to get out of the house and meet people who understand.
  • Also, you could join an online discussion forum. Carer's forums can be a great place for handy tips, emotional support, as well as a place where you can vent without shame.
  • Talk to your friends and relatives. Friends and relatives may not be carers, but they know you and the person you're caring for. They care about you. Talking to them can take some of the weight off your shoulders, and if they know how you're feeling, they may offer to help so you can have a break.
  • Speak to your doctor. If you're feeling really overwhelmed, or down, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can refer you for counselling which will help you rediscover yourself, and your strength.

Get enough sleep

There's nothing worse than being overtired. Good sleep is vital for good mental and physical health. Lack of sleep worsens depression and can contribute to the development of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Try following these ten top tips to get a good night's sleep:

  1. Banish the TV and laptop from the bedroom
  2. Keep your bedroom comfortable: not too hot or cold
  3. Don't eat a big meal late at night
  4. Try a tryptophan-boosting snack before bed: a banana, two oatcakes, or a glass of milk.
  5. No caffeinated tea or coffee after six p.m.
  6. Avoid alcohol - you will fall asleep, but you'll find yourself waking in the night
  7. Have a sensible bedtime routine: a soothing bath, a chapter of a book, and lights out
  8. Get up and go to bed at the same time each day (even holidays and weekends - sorry!)
  9. If you can't sleep, don't lie there tossing and turning: get up and listen to some quiet music or read a book.
  10. If your mattress is more than ten years old, change it. Your mattress shouldn't be so firm that you feel balanced on top of it, nor so soft that you sink completely into it. Firm and supportive is the key.
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