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Taking care of your mental health

Get support. Attend a support group, have a friend you can call just to let off steam and complain. Check out what supports are available for carers in your area on www.FamilyCarers.ie or check our list of support organisations. or see Reducing Personal Stress and Learning from Our Emotions

Relax in whatever way you can - read a book, meditate, pray, garden, knit, find something that makes you laugh – an old comedy, a friend with a good sense of humour, get a massage, take a long bath.

Go easy on yourself. You cannot be a perfect caregiver, all day, every day.

Top Tips

Use community resources that are available in your area such as Meals on Wheels, Day Care facilities or Befriending services.

If you are caring for someone with difficult behaviours learning how to communicate properly will make your job easier.   You could try taking a class or reading how to on the web.  This skill may also help you to deal with other family members or agencies. Check our tips in Communicating Constructively.

Ask for and accept help when offered. No one can do this alone. – see Asking for and Accepting Help
Take a break from care giving. Everyone needs to get out of the house once in awhile.  Go to the cinema, take a walk or meet a friend for lunch.
Learn about the illness your loved one has. Find out about what is happening now and what will happen in the future with this illness. Make sure legal documents are in order.  The more you know, the more you may be able to plan.
 
Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one,like monitored alarms and motion sensors. Organise medical information so it's up to date and easy to find. 

Helpful links for:

• Advice and general information on mental health - www.yourmentalhealth.ie
• For resource materials on promoting wellbeing -www.icgp.ie  
• If you feel it is all simply too much, free phone the Samaritans on 116 123

What might stop you looking after yourself?

Your attitudes and beliefs can stand in the way of you caring for yourself.  This may be a lifelong pattern where taking care of others is an easier option than taking care of yourself. However, as a family caregiver you must ask yourself, "What good will I am to the person I care for if I become ill?  Breaking old patterns and overcoming obstacles is not easy, but it can be done—regardless of your age or situation. The first task in removing personal barriers to self-care is to identify what is in your way.

For example:

  • Do you think you are being selfish if you put your needs first? Is it frightening to think of your own needs? What is the fear about?
  • Do you have trouble asking for what you need? Do you feel inadequate if you ask for help?
  • Do you feel you have to prove that you are worthy of the affection of the person you care for? Do you do too much as a result?

Sometimes caregivers have false beliefs that increase their stress and get in the way of good self-care.
For example

  • ‘I'm responsible for my sister's health’, 
  • ‘If I don't do it, no one will’
  • 'Our family always takes care of their own’
  • ‘I promised my father I would always take care of my mother’.

"I never do anything right," or "There's no way I could find the time to exercise" are examples of negative self-talk, another possible barrier that can cause unnecessary anxiety. Instead, try positive statements: "I'm good at doing physio on John." "I can exercise for 15 minutes a day." Remember, your mind believes what you tell it.

Because we base our behaviour on our thoughts and beliefs, attitudes and false beliefs like the examples above can cause carers to continually try to do what cannot be done, to control what cannot be controlled. The result is feelings of continued failure and frustration and, often, an inclination to ignore your own needs. Ask yourself what might be getting in your way and keeping you from taking care of yourself.

Once you've started to name any personal barriers to good self-care, you can begin to change your behaviour, moving forward one small step at a time.