Being a carer is not always easy and people had different ways of coping with the stresses and strains involved (see section 'How caring affects carers'). Some people coped with caring better than others.
People said it was vital to get the balance right between your own needs and the needs of the person who is unwell. Carers said they needed breaks, rest and activities that 'make life enjoyable'. Many said that carers should not neglect their own physical and mental health.
It is important to have a social life and to keep active, for instance by meeting friends, going to the cinema or library, going for walks, travelling, doing yoga or meditation or taking exercise. Getting 'out and about' or finding time for hobbies can be difficult for some carers.
One woman said she needed to plan carefully the time she has to herself.
Many used the services of local community or voluntary organisations (see 'Support from carers services') where they met others, often from the same ethnic background as themselves. Some focused on their own personal development and learning. Activities were diverse and included learning to swim or a new language, improving English skills, taking part in religious activities, doing computer courses, or learning about mental wellbeing at meetings or conferences.
Many carers found it helpful and worthwhile to take part in voluntary work. Some helped at their community centre or carers group, and others were active in organisations that try to improve mental health services.
Getting a break
People said being active can give you more energy and a much needed break from caring. At home, people found that reading, listening to music, doing crosswords or sudoku were good ways of getting a short break.
While it was difficult for some to 'switch off', some took more formal opportunities for getting respite, such as when their loved one was looked after by someone else, or in a hospital or care home (see 'Support from carer services'). Others did not have this option.
Talking and letting off steam
Talking to others helped many carers, but not everyone had someone they could talk to. Some found the sharing of experiences with others cares in a carers' support group really useful. Others preferred talking to support workers or their own friends and family. Still others could use a 'talking therapy'.
Having someone who really listened without interruption - and who understood - was seen as great support. This was true even if the listener couldn't 'tell me what to do'. People said talking 'helps you see things clearly' and that it 'makes it feel worthwhile.'
Talking to someone you trust can be a way of 'letting off steam' when things are frustrating or frightening. Many said they also 'have a good cry' or that they 'scream' to get things out of their system. Two women even said -with a smile- that they had taken up swearing in old age because it helped release the frustration. Laughter as well as tears can help let off steam and some carers said that keeping a sense of humour -even when things are difficult- can help lighten the load.
Using your inner strength
Even though most said they needed the support of others, many carers found they had an inner strength helping them 'just to get on with it'. Even if it was hard going, some people 'learned to live with it' or even 'put up with' difficult behaviour because they were committed to looking after their loved one.
For others, trying to be 'rational', 'objective', taking a step back to think or diffuse difficult situations had helped manage anger and frustration and keeping 'your mind under control'. Others said that seeing the situation from the view point of the person they cared for helped them to be more patient. Learning how to get information and support had helped others slowly but surely to cope better (see 'Final advice to other carers').
Knowing your limits
Some had learnt to accept that their loved one would perhaps never totally recover, or that they themselves were unable to help as much as they wanted. So people said it is important to accept what you can and can't do.
Some thought they perhaps have taken on too much responsibility for caring, and that it would be best both for themselves and for the person they cared for if they let go of some responsibility (see also 'Giving emotional and practical support').
To let go of responsibilities means carers sometimes need to set boundaries. Learning to say 'no' when the person who is unwell (or a service) wants help can be very difficult at first, especially when it is the carer (and not the services) who knows the situation best.
One woman had thought about no longer being the next of kin to her relative, because she felt at 'breaking point' and had to choose between letting go of some responsibilities or 'going under' herself. Other carers talked about how they stopped caring for periods of time, so as to return with renewed energy or a more balanced approach. Some had moved away to work or to get married, within the UK or abroad, while others just 'stayed away' for a while.
Negative ways of trying to cope
Some really struggled to cope with caring and had no clear coping strategy. Others had negative coping strategies that they felt made the situation worse. One woman said that moving to the UK had meant she had given up her old hobbies, which could have given her breaks now. She also said she was used to 'putting myself to one side' and that this was part of Japanese culture but she thought in some situations 'it is not a good thing to do'.
Others talked about taking up smoking, overeating, or 'being a martyr.' One woman said she would 'withdraw from the world' when things were difficult, but this only depressed her more.
More information about coping can be found in 'Final advice to other carers'.
Last reviewed February 2013.
Last updated February 2013.