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Do you help care for someone with CF? Perhaps a partner, or a parent or sibling? If your answer is “yes” then you can call yourself a carer. And as CFCC social and health worker Janet Ray explains, that’s not just a word, it’s a serious job.  

Anticipating the needs of a person you care for can be extremely taxing. Alongside practical duties, it’s a full-time job that comes with all sorts of emotional complexities, which can eventually lead you to deprioritise, or even forget, your own needs.  

This is an entirely normal way to cope. But it is also a very bad one. As the age-old cliché has it, you can’t care for someone else if you don’t look after yourself. Your own needs don’t simply disappear just because someone else’s seem a little more pressing. It’s not self-indulgent to tend to them. It is just something that has to be done. But the good news is that self-care doesn’t have to involve a whole new regime or grand new philosophy of life. To my mind, there just a few key areas that you need to really focus on to keep yourself healthy in mind, body and soul.  

Here five simple little things that can make a big difference to your mental health. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help  

Don’t wait for other people to guess how you’re feeling. Start a dialogue and say what you need. Speak up and reach out to your friends and family. Trying to do it all on your own is a sure path to caregiver burnout. And please don’t ever be ashamed to say “yes” if someone offers to help! That’s what makes the world go around. Maybe they could do some shopping or cooking for you? Maybe they could drive to doctors’ appointments? There are probably all sorts of very simple ways that people in your life could make that life easier.  

 

Stay connected with others  

Connecting with other people isn’t just fun. It is fundamental to your mental health. So please make time to go out for a coffee or a walk with a friend, or even just connect on the phone or through social media.  

Joining a support group or a carers group can also be a good idea, as they allow you to connect with people who have been through the same things. Sometimes you just want to talk to someone who can immediately understand what you’re going through and respond with relevant stories or tips. 

 

Don’t be afraid to get support  

There’s no shame in seeing a professional counsellor. They’re simply someone who can help you to talk through your worries and find new ways to manage stress. You can contact the CFCC phone counselling service, if you like. You can also find counselling services in your local area.  

If you’re employed, it might be worth talking to your employer about your caring duties, if you feel able. There might be measures they can put in place, such as flexible working, to make sure your work/life balance is manageable. Your workplace may also have access to an Employees Assistance Program that can offer you free professional support.  

Connecting with other people isn’t just fun. It is fundamental to your mental health.

Maintain your own hobbies and interests  

When you’re caring for someone, it’s easy to lose sight of your own passions, hobbies and interests. But they are a big part of what makes you you, so it’s important to make a little room for them. Whether it’s popping on your favourite TV series, playing some tennis or joining a local choir, doing the things that you like doing best will make a world of difference to your state of mind.  

 

Relax and take breaks  

Caring can be a nonstop job. But every human being needs to rest and recharge, and just generally do a bit for themselves so take a break every day. Take a few, if you can. While caring can sometimes mean being on call 24/7, you shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying a coffee, reading a book or taking time out to see a few friends. If you’re a live-in carer, it can also be good to put aside a spot just for you. It could be a room, a chair or a corner of the garden—basically anywhere where you can relax and feel comfortable. Relaxation techniques such as meditation can also help with stress or poor sleep.  

 

Resources  

Need help providing help? The following resources can provide support and more information:  

This article was first published in the CFCC Community Focus Magazine in June 2021 and was republished on CFStrong in April 2022. If you would like to share your story, please contact us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you and so would our listeners.