Taking time for yourself
The UK’s population is ageing and this means that an increasing number of people are caring for an older loved one. However, taking on the role of carer can take its toll. Research published by Carers UK in 2018 showed that almost three quarters of carers in the UK have suffered from mental ill health as a result of caring, and well over half say their physical health has worsened. In the same research, carers said the factors that contributed most to their stress and anxiety were insufficient sleep, the challenge of providing hands-on care, and struggling to manage financially.
If you’re a carer, it can be difficult to find time for yourself, but remember that your health and wellbeing are important, too. If you’re happy and well, you’re better able to provide help and support to others.
Try to make time for your own interests whenever you can. If you spend a lot of time thinking about, or caring for, someone else, a bit of ‘me time’ can do you the world of good – taking your mind off your responsibilities and helping to recharge your batteries.
Of course, finding that spare time is easier said than done. You might find it helpful to have a plan of action to make sure you have time for your leisure activities. Setting aside a few hours every week when you do a class or an activity can be a way of achieving that.
If the person you’re looking after needs continuous care, talk to another relative or friend to see if they can regularly take over caring duties for a few hours a week. Our guide to respite care has useful advice on how to arrange short- or long-term respite care, including trying to get support from a local day centre.
It was exhausting. I realise now that in the last couple of years of caring for my mother, I was stressed out. I would stay up stupidly late just to have some time to myself, and I regularly woke at 4am just from anxiety for my mother.
Leisure activities for carers
- Keeping fit: exercise isn’t just good for your physical health, it can be a way to relieve stress, boost your self-esteem and make you happier, too. Try to make time for something you enjoy, whether that’s running, swimming, yoga or a gentle stroll in the park. If you prefer to work out with someone else, have a look at local classes, gyms and walking groups, or speak to friends to see if anyone fancies joining you.
- Hobbies: joining a class can be a really good way of meeting other people, learning new skills or doing an activity that you love. Perhaps you like painting or photography? Or maybe you’d like to learn more about computers, first aid or study a new language? If classes aren’t your thing, reading books by your favourite authors or indulging in a spot of gardening might be a good way for you to relax – take a look at Which? Gardening for inspiration.
- See your friends: try meeting friends or family members over an afternoon coffee or go out for dinner. It will give you a chance to talk about things other than your caring responsibilities.
- Learning something new: your local library can provide information about social activities, events, education and courses. If you are no longer in full-time employment, the University of the Third Age (U3A) might hold courses in your area.
- Facebook groups: if you enjoy using Facebook, there may be a local support group with their own page so that you can interact with other carers and get support.
- Join an online forum: Carers UK has an online forum where carers chat, share their experiences and ask for advice from other carers.
A national membership charity that champions carers’ rights, connecting and supporting carers online and in local communities.
The carer’s assessment can be a good way to access leisure activities. For example, if the local authority decides you have eligible needs, it might provide funding for a gym membership or regular respite care so that you can pursue your interests.
Your local carers’ organisation will have details of activities for carers in your area. You can search for local carers’ groups using our care services directory.
We all know that healthy eating is important, but if you’re busy cooking and shopping for someone else it can be easy to let your own eating habits slip. A balanced diet is good for your all-round health, fitness and wellbeing.
Here are a few quick tips on how to make healthy eating easier to fit into your daily life.
- Plan meals: deciding what to cook every day can be a pain, particularly if you’re busy. One solution is to plan your meals in advance. Sit down once a week and make a list of meals for the next seven days and then shop for the ingredients all at once. You’re less likely to forget things if you shop with a list. And you’re more likely to eat a proper meal if everything you need is already in your cupboards or fridge.
- Online shopping: if you find it difficult to get out to the supermarket, online shopping can be quick and easy. You can shop from the comfort of your own home at any time of the day or night, and food is delivered straight to your door. Which? members can read our monthly comparison of supermarkets to see which supermarkets rate the best, and worst, for online shopping.
- Batch cooking: if you’re busy caring, you’re unlikely to have time to produce top-quality meals every night of the week. Batch cooking is a great way to prepare meals in advance. Cook a huge casserole, shepherd’s pie, Bolognese sauce, curry or chilli, and then freeze individual portions to reheat when you’re hungry.
Taking a break from caring
If you provide care for a relative, friend or neighbour, there will be times when you need to take a break: to attend appointments, go to a class or simply to take time out. You might want to arrange alternative care for the person you care for – either in their own home or somewhere else. Or you could arrange a respite holiday – either for yourself, the person you care for or both of you together.
- Read more about the respite care options available, how to choose and finance this type of care, and what benefits it can offer you and the person you care for in our guide to taking a break from caring.
- If you’re juggling work and caring responsibilities, you might wish to explore flexible working or taking a longer break from work.
If you haven’t had a carer’s assessment, it’s worth getting one as many local authorities can offer respite care to those who are eligible for help.
We explain what it means to be a carer and the many ways that the UK’s 6.5 million carers provide help and support.
Caring can be lonely at times, but talking to others can help. Find out where to go for further advice and support.
We explain your options for extra support if you’re struggling to provide care for a partner, relative or friend.