for better mental health

How to cope when supporting someone else

Explains how to cope when supporting someone else, giving practical suggestions for what you can do and where you can go for support.

How can I look after myself?

As a carer you spend a lot of your time focusing on someone else. You may feel as if you just have no time at all for yourself. But looking after your own wellbeing is important for you and for them.

Below are some suggestions that others have said they find helpful. Even just choosing one small thing to change might help you feel more able to cope.

You could also have a look at our information on how to improve your mental wellbeing.

I'm at breaking point – help me

Sometimes the pressures of supporting someone else can build up until it feels as if you just can't cope any more. This is completely understandable and may be a sign that you need to try and look after yourself. If you are feeling desperate and in crisis, you won't be able to keep supporting someone else.

Try and take a small break. If that's impossible, have a moment to yourself and take some long deep breaths.

Knowing that things will get easier in the future can help you feel a little calmer. Have a look at our info on the people who can help you and think about who you could contact for support right now. It might help to make a note of your next steps so you feel more in control.

You can talk to the Samaritans 24 hours a day. They are there to listen and to help you find a way through.

It can be really important to have someone to talk to, especially if you are struggling to cope. You could:

Not all these options will feel right for you. If you are feeling isolated or alone it might also help to have a look at our info on coping with loneliness.

"Try to find someone you can be honest with about your feelings, without judgement."

Most carers need some additional support. Think about whether family and friends could help you. People don't always know what they can do to help but may be happy to lend a hand if you can tell them what you need.

"I cared for my husband for many years with no support. I wish I’d known there was help and how to access it sooner. I would also have looked after my own wellbeing as a priority and maintained my friendships and family relationships."

Your employer may also be able to help more than you think. You have a right to ask for flexible working hours if you have caring responsibilities.

You might also find it useful to have a look at our page on people and places who can help you.

"Respite is possible – and necessary. You can't give your all as a carer – you just can't. You have to save a bit of yourself just for you."

If you take on too much, you may feel as if you never achieve anything. If you have a clear idea about what you can do, and accept the parts that you can't change or do alone, you may feel more able to cope. You could try to:

  • make a list of all the support the person you are caring for needs
  • identify (with them if possible) what you can do and what you need help with
  • think about how you'll be able to tell when you need a break and write this down too.

Staying organised can help you feel more in control. You could keep a schedule or planner of your daily routine and make sure that you keep all important information and medication in one place. But don't beat yourself up if you get muddled or things get lost. You've got a lot to think about.

It may also help to let someone else (a friend, family member or paid worker) know where the information is and what to do if you become unwell yourself.

Work with them to see how they can help themselves and work out what support they need from you and whether there are times that they can cope on their own.

It's important to help them have some control over their care. You may find this means taking a step back or supporting decisions that are not what you would do. But it can also mean that you are able to find a balance in your relationship and perhaps a little more time for yourself.

Looking after someone can change your relationship with them. Sometimes you may feel close and connected but at other times you may feel angry and irritated. It can help to talk openly and honestly to find way of coping together. Try to:

  • think of yourself as their friend, partner or family member first and foremost
  • talk together about how to strengthen positive parts of your relationship
  • do nice things together as well as day to day responsibilities.

Try and take a break, especially if you are worried about your own mental health. You may not be able to take a break every time you need one but it's important to have some time that's yours. The Carer's Trust has more information about the help you can get to take a break.

You may need an hour or two to clear your head or a day to help you feel more rested. You could go out, take a bath or turn your phone off for an agreed period of time. Try to make time for things you enjoy.

"I run and wonder how many of the other runners I see out are running away from difficulties! Never compare yourself to others, at best we are all muddling along."

If possible, try and plan regular breaks into your routine. This can help you make plans in advance, give you something to look forward to and make sure the person you look after knows what to expect.

Sometimes you may need a longer break, especially if you are worried that you are becoming unwell.

"The biggest thing for me is making time for myself, it is very easy to feel guilty about making time, and very difficult to do on a practical level."

Lack of sleep can make it more difficult to cope with day to day challenges and can make stress and depression worse. Have a look at our pages on how to cope with sleep problems.

Relaxation techniques can help you feel more rested. Have a look at our pages on relaxation. Most of these techniques can be done for just a few minutes each day.

It's important to try and make time to look after your physical health as best you can. Try and eat as healthily as you can and do some kind of regular physical activity. Our information pages on food and mood and physical activity has suggestions to help you fit things into a busy daily routine.

"I have come up with my own saying, which is "you have to make your own normal". Your life changes so much as a carer and you have to make a new life for yourself. You do not want to feel excluded from life, so you make your own normal."

This information was published in March 2017. We will revise it in 2020.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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