Supporting Yourself

If you are caring for your loved one, either voluntarily or involuntarily, having a ‘normal’ life can be made more difficult. Your days can be stressful and disruptive to your health and everyday life.

We encourage you to start making changes in your life and put your own health first.

It will be difficult to change your routine at first. Everyone finds it hard to say ‘no’ at times to someone you care about, and it’s so easy to put our needs last as we spend all our time helping those we love. But for us to be able to ‘get better’ and to support the ones we love, we need to look after our own mental health and wellbeing too.

Taking time out in your day for yourself and spending time doing things you enjoy and that calm you down will make a difference to your mental health.

Finding the time can be hard, and trying to stop your thoughts and worries can make things so much more difficult. But if you don’t take care of yourself, it won’t be long before you are exhausted and risk damaging your own health.

We all have our own ways of unwinding and enjoying time to ourselves, even if it is only for a few moments. By reading a chapter in a book, taking a bath, listening to your favourite music, taking a walk, spending time with your family, and so much more.

Doing things you enjoy can reduce stress levels and can help stop any build-up of anger and exhaustion.

If you have a smartphone or tablet, there are several apps you can download that support decluttering your mind, reducing stress and looking after yourself.

Information and apps:

Below we have gathered helpful information and resources on looking after yourself – including dealing with anxiety, depression and low mood, and what to do if you have trouble sleeping.

Anxiety

Anxiety can come in many different forms. From day-to-day low-level stress and tension, through to extreme panic. Anxiety is a normal human emotion that is an automatic response to perceived threats around us and keeps us safe.

You may have heard of the fight or flight response, and that’s what our bodies are programmed to do when it feels stress. It works to keep us safe. Anxiety itself is not problematic, the problem is an anxiety disorder when our fight or flight response is triggered when no danger is present.

An anxiety disorder is diagnosed when our fight or flight response becomes overactive – perceiving danger in things that are low risk and if it is malfunctioning and causing our body to experience the effects when it is not required e.g. panic attacks.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Some common symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Tense muscles that can cause headaches or pain in our neck, shoulders or back
  • A dry mouth and it is hard to swallow
  • Feeling breathless and dizzy or feeling faint and breathing more rapidly
  • Indigestion, constipation or diarrhoea because adrenaline causes blood to be taken away from the digestion process and goes to the heart and muscles
  • High heart rate
  • Not able to concentrate or anything and become irritable with other people
  • Feeling emotional and our thoughts become negative
  • Difficulties sleeping and ending up exhausted

With anxiety, our worries are mainly based on future events and what ‘might happen if’. Mindfulness is helpful in managing anxiety as it teaches us to focus on the here and now and be present in the moment. Learning ways of coping with your anxiety and figuring out what is triggering your anxiety attacks can help with figuring out the best ways to feel better.

It can be tricky to spot your triggers at first, especially if you have been feeling anxious for a while. Start by noticing the most intense or strongest feelings of anxiety. When you feel like this, write down what’s making you worry. Ask yourself:

  • What is going through my head right now?
  • What am I afraid might happen?
  • What is it about this situation that makes me feel worried?

Many people recover from anxiety disorders by understanding what their symptoms are and finding ways to manage and protect themselves against their triggers. By taking small steps to understand how anxiety impacts you and working out the best coping methods, you will begin to take control of your emotions and become more emotionally resilient.

Helpful links:

Depression and Low Mood

Most people are able to identify with feeling down and not quite themselves. If this feeling continues over a period of weeks, it’s important to see your doctor as you may be experiencing depression.

You may be feeling:

  • I am low-spirited for much of the time
  • I often feel restless
  • I get tearful easily
  • I feel numb, empty and full of despair
  • I feel isolated and unable to talk to other people
  • I am short-tempered or impatient
  • I find little pleasure in life or in things I usually enjoy

You may also have thoughts like:

  • I am having difficulty remembering things
  • I find it hard to concentrate or make decisions
  • I blame myself a lot and feel guilty about things
  • I have no self-confidence or self-esteem
  • I am having a lot of negative thoughts
  • I have been thinking about suicide

Physical symptoms may include:

  • I have difficulty sleeping, or I am sleeping much more than usual
  • I feel tired and have no energy
  • I have lost my appetite and am losing weight, or I am eating a lot more than usual and putting on weight
  • I have physical aches and pains with no obvious physical causes

If anything above relates to how you feel, it’s important to see your GP or health professional to discuss your mood, especially if you have thoughts of suicide or self-harming.

Depression is unique to each individual person and the causes of depression also vary from person to person. Some people find talking therapies are helpful as this helps them get a better understanding of what it means to them. Periods of depression can be triggered by life events, physical illness, change, bereavement or loss, alcohol and/or drug use, and sometimes as a side effect of medication.

It is important to know that there is no ‘quick fix’ solutions to how you are feeling, but building a series of self-care strategies that can be maintained will be so helpful.

A common symptom of depression is a lack of energy and motivation, but the more involved you are in your recovery, the better the results.

Not all people who experience depression need medication. This is a choice you can make and should be discussed with your GP. There are many other options that people often find helpful to try before considering medication.

These include:

  • Self-care and doing things you enjoy and taking time for yourself (it is okay to rest as well, do not think just because you are ‘not doing anything’ means you are not productive. We all need rest days and shouldn’t be hard on ourselves for taking the time to rest).
  • Connecting with people because feelings of a low mood can leave us isolated. Keep in touch with your loved ones. Try and build up contact if you have been out of touch with them, start with a text or short phone call and go from there.
  • Talking therapies are available, some are one to one and others can be in a group. There’s a lot of help online for anyone interested in talking therapy.
  • Mindfulness is very popular and can help so much when it comes to low moods. It helps us be more aware of our thoughts and feelings and looks at how we manage them. It can be practiced anywhere and is easily integrated into everyday life.
  • Exercise can release endorphins which lift our mood naturally. Try going out for a walk or meet a friend for a run or swim. Small manageable changes can make a big difference to our mood.

If your symptoms have been ongoing for more than a few days, you should contact your GP and let them know how you are feeling. Often people do not need ongoing GP support, but your GP may have access to local services that can help you.

Helpline links:

Difficulty Sleeping

A poor night’s sleep can impact our emotional wellbeing as well as leaving us feeling physically tired. Most adults need 7 hours of sleep a night, young babies and elderly people often need less sleep.

Some advice on getting a decent night’s sleep:

  • Don’t nap during the day because this confuses our body clock
  • Cut down on caffeine and don’t drink caffeine well before bedtime
  • People usually say alcohol helps them sleep but our bodies have to work hard to process the alcohol in our system meaning that we don’t get the same quality of sleep and will often wake up tired
  • Exercise in the morning or afternoon can help you sleep better at night, gentle exercise such as yoga can be helpful in the evenings before bedtime
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal before bedtime because our bodies have to work had to digest and process the food which leads to a night of more disturbed sleep
  • Have a bedtime routine – routines help our mind prepare and by having a regular routine, we are training ourselves to wind down before bed
  • Don’t watch TV in bed – try and keep your bedroom for sleeping in, watch TV in another room so that your brain knows to switch off when you go into your bedroom
  • Don’t use your phone in bed – the light from your phone will make your brain wake up more, making it more difficult to drift off

Waking up during the night is a normal part of sleep. Some people can become more anxious when they wake during the night which makes it more difficult to drift back off. If you notice yourself waking during the night and struggling to get back to sleep, try keeping a notepad and pen by your bed and note down any thoughts that are worrying you. By doing this, you are acknowledging that your thoughts are important, but that now isn’t the right time and you can look at it in the morning.

If you are still awake after 30 minutes, get up and go to another room. Lying in bed staring at the ceiling will only build anxiety. Try reading a book or listening to some relaxing music, but make sure it’s nothing too stimulating. Stay warm and when you feel yourself getting tired, go back to bed.

Helpful resources:

Stress:

Sleep Hygiene:

Healthy Eating Advice:

Depression:

Anxiety:

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