When you're a carer, things can sometimes feel overwhelming, and you can often feel guilty for making time for your own needs. This can lead to carer exhaustion, but we're here to help.
On this page, we're sharing advice to help you look after yourself as a carer, so that you can care for and support your family member or friend in the best way possible.
Looking after yourself as a carer
Sleeping, eating well and exercising
Caring for someone who is terminally ill can be physically and emotionally exhausting. If you’re wondering how to look after yourself as a carer, your physical health is a good place to start. If you feel well, coping as a carer can feel easier.
Try to focus on simple things, like getting enough sleep, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, and doing exercise that you enjoy. And if you feel unwell or have health worries, don’t put off going to the doctor.
Making time for yourself
Everyone deserves a break, so try not to feel guilty about taking time out. You wouldn’t usually spend 24 hours a day with someone, and it’s important to make time for yourself too.
If you can, take a few minutes each day to unwind. It can help to take this break at the same time, so it starts to become more of a routine. You might want to:
- go for a walk
- listen to music or a podcast
- do some relaxation exercises
- call a family member or friend
- spend time on a hobby.
Remember, most people who need care want to see the people who are closest to them enjoying their lives. And they’ll probably enjoy hearing about what you’ve been doing too.
Enjoying time together
When you spend a lot of time caring for a friend or relative, it can be easy to lose touch with your old relationship with them. That’s why it can be good to create space to enjoy each other’s company.
It may help to find things you can do together that take you out of your caring role. For example, this could be as simple as getting outside, playing a game together or watching a film you both love.
If you can travel, theatres and cinemas can be great options, and they often have good disabled access.
People often asked “How do you do it?” I always said I couldn’t have done it without John’s positive attitude and love.
- a member of our Online Community talking about being a carer.
Having someone to talk to
Caring for someone who is dying can be tremendously rewarding. But while it can bring you closer to the person you’re caring for, you’re also likely to experience intense emotions. These might include shock, fear, anger, sadness, stress or guilt, and they can make coping as a carer really tough.
Everyone is different and will need different kinds of support during these times. If your normal way of dealing with things is to talk to a friend, try to continue making time for those conversations.
Others find that talking to people who understand what they’re going through can provide a source of comfort. For example, there are lots of people on our Online Community sharing their experiences of coping as a carer and supporting someone who is terminally ill.
To find out about other support groups or communities, visit:
If someone you were caring for has died, you may find our Online Bereavement Support helpful. As well as the Online Community mentioned earlier, it also includes more information about Grief Guide, our online support and our Online Bereavement Counselling Service.
Caring for someone with a terminal illness is hard
Being a carer can be incredibly demanding in all kinds of ways, and you may find it hard to cope. It can be upsetting to witness what your relative or friend is going through, and you might worry about them and feel anxious about the future. This might make it hard for you to switch off and take a step back from your caring responsibilities.
People also find that caring can often be isolating at times. It can mean that you have less time to see friends or do activities you used to love. And when you do see people, it may be harder to connect now that your day-to-day life and concerns are so different from theirs.
If you’re finding caring difficult, you’re not alone. It’s a huge responsibility that may become harder over time, but we’re here for you, and support is available.
Coping with carer exhaustion
The demands of caring can build up over time, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and burned out. You may be struggling with depression or anxiety, have sleep problems or find you get ill more easily. You might feel emotionally exhausted too.
Carer exhaustion is common and it’s not selfish to say you’re finding it tough. When a carer can’t cope, the first step to recovery is to ask others for help. Try to find someone you trust who you can share your feelings with, and make a plan together.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, your GP can help you find the right support. This might include counselling, group therapy or medication.
Letting the healthcare team know if you’re struggling
If you can no longer manage things as they are, it’s OK to say so. It’s better to let the healthcare team know as soon as possible, so they can help you get the extra support you need. You may need to take some time out, or you might find you can cope with the right help in place.
How to help a carer
If your friend or relative is caring for someone who is dying, they’ll need a lot of care and support. Let them know you’re there for them and they’re not alone, and try to check in by text or call to see how they’re doing. Invite them to do things with you as you normally would, but make sure they know that there’s no pressure if they can’t make it, or don’t feel up to it.
Try to understand what they are going through and what they might need. If you can sense that they might be struggling, but they haven’t asked for support, try to offer to help with specific things, such as:
- keeping friends updated
- booking appointments
- organising a visitors’ rota
- driving them to places
- doing the shopping
- looking after their children
- cleaning the house
- walking their dog.
If you feel comfortable, you could offer to spend time with the person they care for, so they can take short breaks. And you could also help them create a back-up plan in case they’re unwell or need time off. Simply having this in place could help them feel less stressed.
If you’re terminally ill and want to support someone who cares for you, something you could consider is planning for the future. This can be painful, and some people prefer not to think about it. But you may find it takes away some worry, both for you and your loved ones.