Caring can be emotionally and physically demanding. Prioritising your wellbeing and gaining balance in your role as a carer is very important.
Caring and stress
A bit of stress is normal but when stress becomes unrelenting and overwhelming it can begin to affect your health and wellbeing.
The physical and emotional demands of caring
Some carers provide 24 hour nursing aid to a family member with high care needs. Others care for people who are fairly independent but may need help occasionally. The greater the physical and emotional demands of your caring role, the more likely you are to feel stress.
Lack of choice
Many carers feel they had little or no choice in taking on caring. You may sometimes feel trapped and resentful.
Conflict and frustration
Relationships can change under the pressures of illness and adversity. There might be greater levels of conflict and frustration in your family.
You may even be caring for someone you have always had a difficult relationship with.
Lack of support
Many carers feel alone and unsupported.
You may find it hard to access services and supports that meet the needs of your family.
You may also wish that friends and family members could help out more.
Effects of stress
When you feel stressed your body reacts the same way it does to a threat. Your heartbeat, breathing rate and blood pressure all go up. The longer you feel stressed, the greater the demands on your body.
This can eventually lead to stress related illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, mental health problems, decreased immunity and chronic fatigue.
Find out more
Talk to your doctor if you feel that stress is affecting your physical health.
Read our advice on managing stress
Our education programs can give you information, knowledge and skills to help you mange stress
Find out about our carer counselling program
Identify situations that stress you
There are common signs that may indicate your stress levels are too high.
Look at the list of symptoms below and learn to recognise when you are becoming stressed and need to slow down and look after yourself:
- Disturbed sleep or insomnia, tiredness and apathy
- Racing heart or sweating with no obvious cause, digestive problems, headaches and muscle tension
- Overeating or loss of appetite, weight loss or gain
- Feelings of tension, impatience or irritability, anger and resentment
- Lack of self esteem, depression and helplessness, anxiety or guilt
- Forgetfulness and indecision
- Misuse of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or gambling
- Feeling negative about things, withdrawing other people or from activities you normally enjoy
Change what you can
You may not be able to significantly change the demands of your caring role, but you can look creatively at small changes which might help.
Ask friends and family to help out.
Accept what you can’t change
Focus on what you can do to make a difference and identify and accept the things you can’t change.
Stress can sometimes be reduced by changing how you react to it.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses
You may be very good at mediating arguments or at switching off worries and thinking about something else. Someone else in your family may be good at finding practical solutions to problems.
Build coping strategies around the strengths in your family.
Learn skills to help you manage
Learn as much as you can about the condition of the person you are caring for and about techniques that can help you to manage your caring role better.
Good planning can help you to balance you caring responsibilities better with the rest of your life.
Try to nurture traits that are common in people who respond well to change and adversity:
- look at the funny side of things
- build self esteem and believe in your ability to cope
- focus on good outcomes and experiences
- accept unpleasantness, learn from it and move on
Practical strategies for reducing stress
- Keep healthy. Eat well and exercise regularly
- Get a good night’s sleep. Don’t drink coffee or tea in the evening and explore ways to wind down before bed. Meditation, listening to music or reading can help if you have difficulty falling asleep.
- Find out what relaxes you and take regular time out to recharge. Try to do something that you enjoy every day and spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself.
- Talk with family and friends about how you feel. Let off steam and encourage them to do the same. It may also help to talk with a professional counsellor
- Ask for and accept help!
Find out more
Talk to your doctor if you feel that stress is affecting your health.
Our education programs can give you information, knowledge and skills to help you to manage stress
Find out about our carer counselling program
Food and eating are an important part of the way we live our lives. A good diet will improve your physical health and give you the strength and stamina you need to keep caring. A relaxed meal, in company and away from distractions, will also improve your social and emotional wellbeing.
Choose a balanced and varied diet
A well balanced diet includes all the nutrients our bodies need to function properly. It will include foods from each of the five major food groups:
- bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles
- vegetables, fresh beans and peas
- milk, yoghurt, cheese
- meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, dried beans and pulses.
It is important to eat a variety of foods from each group. Each food group is rich in different types of nutrients and different foods within each group provide more of some nutrients than others.
Try to eat plenty of plant foods (vegetables, legumes, fruit, cereal, rice and pasta), moderate amounts of animal foods (meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products) and small amounts of foods containing sugars, salt and oils.
Reduce fats and salts
Adult diets should be low in fat and some types of fat are better for you than others.
- Saturated fats are found in red meat, poultry and dairy products and most commercially baked and deep-fried fast foods. They are easily deposited as fat tissue and can contribute to high blood cholesterol levels so you should try to reduce your intake.
- Polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats are found in fish and seafood, plant-based oils like olive or sunflower oil, avocados and nuts. They are thought to have some health benefits when eaten in small amounts as part of a healthy diet and you should use them to replace saturated fats in your diet as much as you can.
A high salt diet may contribute to a range of health problems, including high blood pressure.
Try to reduce the amount of salt you add to your food and choose reduced or no salt versions of tinned and packaged foods.
Drink plenty of water
You need fresh supplies of water every day for most of your body functions.
You become dehydrated when the water content of your body becomes too low. Dehydration can cause headaches, weakness and tiredness. It can also lead to mood changes and cause you to react more slowly to things.
You should try to drink six to eight 150 ml glasses of fluid every day, including water, tea, juice and milk.
Coffee and alcohol can contribute to dehydration, so you should not count these drinks as part of your recommended daily intake.
Find time to exercise
Regular exercise improves resilience, strength and flexibility, promotes better sleep, reduces stress and depression, and increases your energy and alertness.
It also helps you to lose weight, builds your immunity and protects you against common health problems.
Pre-existing health conditions
If you have a health condition, make sure you talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.
- Starting a new exercise program is probably the most difficult part:
- Begin small by doing some brief exercises at home - a few stretches, lifting weights
- Build up your confidence by following an exercise program on TV or DVD
- Set a time for yourself to do something active – start with10 minutes a day and work your way up 30 minutes or an hour
- Incorporate exercise into everyday activities - walk to the shops, climb the stairs, get into the garden or step up escalators instead of riding
- Listen to your favourite music and dance around the house while doing the housework - music can motivate!
Find the right program
Walking is one of the best and easiest exercises and is a great way to get started.
Walking as little as 20 minutes a day, three times a week, can be beneficial. If you can't get away regularly, try to work walking into your daily routine - walk to the shops, to the station, around the block or in the park with a friend.
Try walking a little faster than you normally do. If you work up a sweat and feel your heart working you have increased the benefit.
Yoga is designed for people of all ages and levels of fitness. Your instructor will help you to work at your own pace, listening to your body and gradually encouraging it to stretch and strengthen.
Check out your local community centre, local directory or council to find out where classes are held.
Many yoga studios have classes for all ages and abilities so you can find a group that suits you.
Swimming is a gentle exercise which you can take at your own pace. You can schedule time to swim laps by yourself, or your local swim centre or gym may offer programs like deep water treading or aqua-aerobics.
For those prepared for a greater challenge, cycling can improve your fitness and help you to get around. If you don’t feel comfortable cycling on busy roads, check out your city council for details of cycling paths in your area.
Join a gym
Gyms often have cheap rates for people who want to exercise at non-peak times or for people over the age of 50.
They offer a wide range of classes to suit all ages and abilities – pilates, aerobics, circuit training, weight training, or (for the more energetic) step classes or Boxercise.
Many gyms can offer a fitness assessment and advice on the best programs for your age and level of fitness when you take up a membership.
Find an alternative that suits you
Any activity that gets your heart pumping and your body moving can be beneficial - try gardening, bushwalking, golf, table tennis, martial arts, tai chi, ballroom, swing or latin dancing.
Keeping up motivation after the first rush of enthusiasm can be difficult. Sometimes it can be hard to keep yourself on track:
Set realistic goals and don’t be too hard on yourself if you sometimes fall short. Remember you can always schedule another session
It’s often easier to stick with a program if you have an ‘exercise buddy’. Find a friend who is also interested in improving their fitness (preferably one at about the same level as you)
Join a class and make it a social part of your week
If you feel like missing an exercise session, focus on how good you will feel afterwards
Reward yourself (in a healthy way) - go out for dinner or a movie, buy a book or DVD, have lunch with a friend or treat yourself to a facial or massage
Find out more
Ask your local community centre, gym or council for information about activities in your area
Healthy food for busy people
Choose healthier alternatives
- Use plant oils (olive or sunflower oil) rather than animal fats (butter or lard)
- Choose the low fat version of foods, fish, leaner cuts of meat and skinless cuts of poultry
- Use pesto, salsas, mustards, chutneys and vinegars for flavour rather than sour cream, mayonnaise and creamy sauces
- At the end of your cooking, enhance flavours with a splash of olive oil or lemon juice instead of salt.
- Experiment with fresh or dried herbs, lemon juice and spices
Low fat cooking
- Steam, grill, boil or microwave rather than frying or baking in oil
- Cook in liquids (stock, wine, juice or water) rather than oil
- Using non-stick pans and apply oil as a spray or with a pastry brush
- Thicken and enrich sauces with low fat alternatives to cream and eggs – yoghurt, skim milk or soy milk stabilised with cornflour
- Scrub vegetables rather than peel them. Many nutrients are found close to or in the skin
- Cook vegetables quickly and with a minimum of liquid by microwaving, steaming, or stir-frying instead of boiling
Keep a well stocked pantry and fridge
- Keep a stock of long-life ingredients that can be combined to create interesting dishes, including:
- Different types of dried pasta and rice, noodles, lentils and couscous
- Frozen vegetables and fruits, low salt varieties of tinned vegetables, low sugar varieties of tinned fruits, dried fruit, legumes, mushrooms and tomatoes
- Low salt varieties of tinned fish
- Long lasting fresh vegetables (potatoes, beets, carrots and onions) and fruit (apples, pears)
- A range of condiments (tomato sauce and paste, mustards, vinegars, relishes and chutneys, soy, chilli and other bottled sauces)
- Dried herbs, spices and nuts, frozen fresh herbs and refrigerated jars of garlic and ginger
Reduce cooking time
- Buy meat and chicken already cut up and marinated
- Buy pre-prepared vegetables and salad ingredients
- Prepare easy, one pot meals like soups, risottos, stews or curries
- Use a microwave to speed up cooking time – even baked foods can be often be microwaved first to reduce the total cooking time
- Use minced or small, thin pieces of food to speed up cooking time
- Make extra and freeze the remainder in meal size portions
- Don’t throw out leftovers – store them appropriately refrigerated or frozen for a quick meal the next day