A time for carers to take care

The festive season can be a stressful time for anyone but for Australia’s 2.7 million unpaid carers, the added pressure of caring for a loved one can make this time of year even more challenging.  

Our Carer Conversations podcast presenter and Carer Gateway counsellor Patty Kikos says carer fatigue is common. “It can be easy for carers to put the needs of the person they’re supporting ahead of their own, which may lead to burn out, feelings of isolation and other issues,” she says. “It’s important that carers look after themselves so they can continue to play an important role in the lives of the people they care for.” 

Support network

As caring responsibilities place unique demands on carers, Patty recommends carers build a strong support network of family, friends and support services. 

“Maintaining social connections is important to the sustainability of your caring role,” she says. Carer Gateway is the Australian Government’s free national carer support service with providers across Australia, including The Benevolent Society which supports Metropolitan Sydney. It offers peer support programs, which allow carers to connect with people in similar circumstances. 

“It’s important to surround yourself with people who understand what you’re going through because they have a lived experience themselves,” Patty says. “They might have walked a similar path to you and can offer sustainable and practical advice that other people won’t have the context for.” 

Patty kikos smiling
Our Carer Conversations podcast host Patty Kikos

Set realistic expectations 

As organised and as efficient as you might be, the caring role can be unpredictable. 

“Care recipients can get sick unexpectedly or doctors’ appointments don’t always juggle easily with your other life commitments,” Patty says. “This might mean that you fall behind in your admin, or your housework. Take the pressure off by prioritising what is most important and knowing that you can always come to other things later. 

“Many of our carers will say that they feel like they’re juggling so many balls. Have a good look at them and determine which ones are glass and which ones are plastic. Let the plastic ones fall and hold on to the glass ones only.” 

Adjusting your boundaries is also important. “You won’t necessarily have the capacity to show up in other areas of your personal and professional life the way you used to,” Patty says. “A lot of your energy is taken up caring for someone. It’s important to let people know that you might be less available.” 

Prioritise rest 

Research shows up to 75 per cent of carers report poor sleep and that carers get as little as 4.4 hours of sleep per night. 
“The mental load of caring for someone is very taxing on our physical and mental health, as well as our emotional wellbeing,” Patty says. “It’s important to prioritise rest and schedule it in.” 

Patty suggests the following tips for a good night’s sleep. “Have a regular sleep pattern; find what time works for you and stick to it,” she says. “Ensure you are getting the recommended amount of sleep where possible; for the average adult this is seven to eight hours per night. Make sure you turn off all electronic devices and ensure your sleep environment is quiet and comfortable.” 

Ask For Help  

If the stress becomes too much, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  

“This can be from family members or friends,” Patty says. “Or you can register yourself as a carer with the Carer Gateway. That way you have access to services that can help you with what you need specifically, or you can be referred to organisations that can help you directly.” 

Take time for yourself 

The caring role can include some complex mixed feelings such as anger, sadness, grief and even resentment. 
“It can be a heavy-hearted time for our carers as they are grieving the decline of their loved one’s health, the change in their relationship dynamic, and sometimes the end of a chapter in a carers life,

Self-care needs to be a priority. Patty says that means maintaining a healthy diet and making it a priority to move every day, as well as taking time for yourself to do things you enjoy. 

“It could be watching your favourite TV show, reading a chapter of a book each day or chatting to friends - whatever fills your cup.  

“I hope these helpful tips can assist carers this festive season to ensure it’s a happy and healthy time for them and their families.” 

Subscribe to ‘Carer Conversations’ wherever you listen to your podcasts including Apple, Spotify and other platforms. For more information on The Benevolent Society’s Carer Gateway program, call 1800 422 737 or click here.