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Carer fatigue - The cost of caring, why self-care isn’t selfish

By Peta Germanotta, Occupational Therapist / Exercise Physiologist

Most carers will wake up one day and realise they have become the carer of a family member, friend or neighbour without even realising it. Being a carer is a highly important role and can be very rewarding, but it can be very demanding and challenging. Carers experience a range of challenges every day. This ranges from a person focused area; physical, emotional, social, through to a more personal area; health, wellbeing, social, loss, financial. The challenges a carer experiences can build up to an increasingly common concern… carers fatigue. Carer fatigue occurs when the carer has difficulty looking after themselves whilst they are focusing on caring for another, and this leads to a burn out. Burn out is emotional or physical exhaustion due to prolonged stress, and it is often unnoticed for a long time.

It’s important to be aware of the signs of stress to ensure burnout doesn’t occur and that the appropriate steps can be taken to avoid it. The signs of stress can include:

  • Emotional swings: anger to sadness to happiness
  • Physical symptoms: changes in weight, breakouts, headaches
  • Irritated easier than normal
  • Frequent illness
  • Difficulty maintaining normal attitude
  • Feeling of no time for yourself
  • Feeling like you never do enough

Being aware of these signs can allow you to identify stress and prevent burn out. It is important to be able to put yourself first.

Self-care is a skill many people can forget about when life gets busy. There are many different ways a carer can help themselves to be the best person and carer they can be. Some tips to prevent carer fatigue include:

  • Set boundaries: define the carer relationship, know what you want your role as a carer to be and the expectations of the one you’re caring for
  • Ensure time for yourself: take breaks (every workplace does!), do something you enjoy, do something important to you, socialise
  • Look after your physical health: exercise regularly, eat well (even if you freeze meals for later), get enough sleep (have a bedtime routine)
  • Look after your mental health: do some mindfulness activities to relax, take a brain break
  • Talk to someone about what you do and how you feel: avoid the build up of feelings, discuss challenges, have a support group
  • Get organised: have a routine for yourself and the person you care for, have a plan for someone else to step in if you want to go away, be able to plan time for yourself
  • Be able to ask for help when needed: consider friends, family, support services, home care packages and programs

It is essential as a carer to be able to support your health and well-being so that you can best support the person you’re caring for, for as long as you want to.

Be sure to look after yourself, and follow our helpful tips to avoid carer fatigue.

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