Self-care support system for carers
We are social beings. Our connections and interactions with others contribute significantly to how we feel on a day-to-day basis. As one wise man once said, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, which may or may not be true, but captures the crucial impact of those closest to us. The different social circles that make up our social network – consisting of our partner, family, friends, colleagues and so on – also play an important role in how our ’support system’ functions.
The importance of those around us becomes especially evident when we care for a family member with a terminal condition, such as dementia.
Who could be the members of our ’support network’?
Those who understand and appreciate our role as a carer. Those who allow us space to delve into and share both the highs and the lows we experience in our role. They may be a friend, a family member, a trusted colleague, a professional (nurse, counsellor or therapist) or even members of a carer’s support group. If you already have someone(s) who fits the description, that’s very reassuring. Make sure you nourish and prioritize that relationship(s) in order to have that emotional safety net around you to uphold you and strengthen you in your role.
However, if currently you don’t have anyone who makes you feel supported while you’re caring for your loved one, give some consideration to proactively finding those who could fulfil this role. Don’t compromise; try and avoid spending too much time with those who drain you or leave you more exhausted – afterall, the time you take off for caring for yourself should be about replenishing and filling your tank for when you’ll need some of your extra energy reserves. Try and put some conscious effort into building your supportive social network – which may only include one or two people. Quality over quantity.
What would this conscious effort entail?
It could be the occasional (or semi-regular) check-in with a friend, who you know helps bring you to a better place mentally and emotionally. This could either be over the phone or ideally with a warm cup of something, in person.
If you know someone who shares your experience of being a carer, you could grab coffee together on a weekly basis just to vent and unload when necessary, to discuss particular issues you’re having and to inspire eachother.
If you cannot think of anyone who fits the bill, there tend to be support groups for carers in bigger cities. If you cannot find any, try and initiate one in your local community centre: you could provide support to eachother with other carers in the same area. Having a circle of people from different walks of life, who share the same responsibility, can bring about a very diverse and strong network, where all members can both provide and receive support.
It’s the 21st century, therefore it would be a mistake not to mention online support. Forums, online groups and other digital platforms can also be a substantial part of your support network where you can share worries, struggles, ideas and moments of happiness with others faced with similar issues as yourself.
So don’t hesitate: call that friend who always puts a smile on your face or explore your local facebook group to connect with other carers in your city. Creating protective, supportive (and even ’informative’) social circles around you will help keep you more grounded and you’ll find it easier to cope with the hardships of your role as a carer.