Seven tips to help young carers improve their mental health
Teni – a young adult carer who is currently an intern in the Communications Team at Carers Trust – shares her personal and thoughtful tips on how other unpaid family carers can make time for their mental health needs alongside their caring role.
As a young carer it is difficult to find time for yourself. Even when we do find the time, we tend to spend it doing things that soak up all our energy and that don’t help us in the long term. So, I've listed seven things that I try to do regularly that improve my mental state when facing the tasks that life has thrown my way.
I haven't been clinically diagnosed with any mental health issues, but I have experienced anxiety and depression which comes from being human and also from my role as a carer. I've found the darkest moments to be times where you must face situations that are completely out of your control, such as your loved one entering the hospital or becoming more unwell. At moments like this I find that it is important to build my mental strength so I can be there for the person I care for and so I don’t break down under the pressure.
Journalling: I'm sure you’ve been told to do this a thousand times when it comes to improving your mental health, but I believe this tip (like a few of the other tips I will recommend) is popular because it’s effective. I personally don’t create strict guidelines for my journal as I feel guilty if I don’t follow them exactly, so I journal regularly, not every day. Everything I feel angry about or overwhelmed by is written in my journal. When I’m on the move I also write what I feel in my phone via the Notes app. Though writing isn't enjoyable for everyone and I'm talking from a biased standpoint as a writer myself, I truly believe it is the easiest way to express and comprehend your emotions. The best part is that once you have written your feelings down you can do whatever you like with the paper. Burn it, share it, doodle over it, it's up to you. Journalling also allows you to see things you can be grateful for. You get to look over the worst moment in your life and be proud that you pulled through it, that you and your family persevered.
Sleeping: another common tip but again, one that is very effective. I find that after taking a good nap things become much easier to handle. Sleep is also necessary for your physical health as it allows you to recharge, letting you face whatever comes your way calmly. I find that when I lose sleep, I become hysterical. I make silly mistakes more often and I also tend to feel more depressed. Getting a good amount of sleep is necessary for you to clear your head and be at your best for your loved one.
Cooking and eating a comfort food: This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, from cheesy pasta to a homemade Chinese – whatever meal it is that brings you comfort and (most importantly) one that you can cook easily. It is also helpful to perhaps cook with someone or for someone as they might also need some comfort, and one thing that should be on everyone’s self-care list is helping others. I find that cooking what I like helps take my mind away from the stress and with some music it becomes a lot more fun. Which brings me to my next point...
Listening to music, singing and dancing: This can easily be done on your own or with family and friends. It’s easy stress relief that can make any tough situation a bit easier to handle. I find that simply sitting and just listening can even be enough to release stress. The occasional sad track is just as important as a happier track as it allows you to cry and release negative emotions.
Crying: I think this is the most important tip I can give you. Crying is a great way of losing negative emotions. It is important that you let yourself feel upset, that you are not ashamed of your tears and that you don’t punish yourself for your feelings. Real strength is found in a person that allows themselves to express their emotions, so it’s very important that you give yourself the time and space to have a good cry.
Talking to family: Another common but key tip, as not only does it lift a weight from your shoulders and allow others to understand what you’re going through, but it also allows them to do the same – letting you know how those around you are feeling. Caring is something very hard to do on your own. It is important you communicate with the friends and family you have so you can all work together to make the processes easier.
Prayer: Not everyone believes in God, and I’m sure many carers find it hard to believe a God exists when their loved ones are suffering. Though I do not have an answer as to why God allows for this suffering, I do know that praying has helped me believe that my loved one will benefit from whatever happens to her. It makes it easier to sleep at night and reduces my anxiety as it allows me to let go of the things I cannot control and leave the decision to God. It also allows me to know that even when I’m not around, my loved one is never alone, she will always have God by her side protecting her. This has been a huge help to my mental health and, though my mental health is not perfect, I can say that each of the things I have listed helped make my caring role easier, more fun and less stressful.
Learn more about what Carers Trust is doing to create learning, training and employment opportunities for young adult carers here on our Young Carers Futures hub.