When a friend, family member or business colleague experiences a period of mental ill-health, your positive support and care can make an important contribution to their recovery. However, it’s essential that you don’t neglect your own wellbeing in the process, as it can have negative implications on your own mental health.
Self-care is about being proactive to enhance or restore your health, and reduce the stress you may be experiencing. This can include processing your emotional reactions and asking for help.
Some of the benefits of self-care include greater capacity to manage stress, increased resilience and reduced symptoms of mental health problems.
Self-care needn’t be costly or time consuming. The important thing is finding what combinations of things work for you.
• Get enough sleep and rest: Sleep affects our physical and mental health, but can be the first thing we trade in when we get busy or stressed. Aim for seven to nine hours a night.
• Be active and eat well: Our physical and mental health is closely linked, so engaging in exercise and eating nutritious food every day can boost our wellbeing. Modelling healthy lifestyle habits may also benefit the person you’re supporting.
• Take time out for things you enjoy: Balance in life is important, so taking time out for things you enjoy can make a difference, not only to how you think and feel, but it can also reinvigorate you in your caring role. If you have put things you enjoy on hold while you are supporting someone else, try to work some of them back into your life, even for thirty minutes a day.
• Connect with others: Caring for another can at times feel all-consuming so it’s important to take time out and maintain contact with other people in your life. It’s important to give yourself permission to take this time guilt-free.
• Share the load: Avoid extra pressure on yourself by outsourcing everyday tasks and responsibilities that are becoming a burden. Hire a cleaner and enlist the support of family and friends - this could be emotional support, like providing a listening ear, or practical support like shopping, cooking meals or helping out in the business.
• Be self-aware: Monitor your self-talk and learn to identify your own stress indicators for example, short temper, sleeping problems, feeling overwhelmed. Use these as a cue for scheduling in some urgent self-care time. Relaxation techniques, like yoga or meditation can assist to manage symptoms of stress.
• Think differently: The way we think about or interpret difficulties can add to the sense of pressure we experience. It can make a difference if we identify and challenge unhelpful thinking patterns for example, I ‘should’ be doing more, or it’s all my fault and work towards replacing them with more positive, problem-solving approaches. On the not-so-good days, remind yourself that you are doing the best you can with the resources available to you and focus on celebrating the everyday achievements, no matter how small.
• Your feelings and reactions are normal: The experience of supporting someone else can evoke many strong feelings and reactions. Regardless of how you’re feeling, give yourself permission to have these feelings without judgement. Processing these feelings with a therapist or someone else independent of the situation can be helpful.
• Educate yourself: Another way to manage feelings is to learn more about mental illness. Understanding the symptoms of the illness the person you are supporting is experiencing can help you to stop taking certain changes in their behaviour personally. Most mental health organisations also include useful information to support family, friends and colleagues of someone experiencing a mental illness.
• Set boundaries and recognise your own limitations: It's okay to say 'no' to others, including the person you are supporting, without feeling guilty. Part of caring for someone is also helping them to take greater responsibility for their own self-care and recovery.
• Reach out for help when you need it: Everyone needs support from time to time. Talking to a family member, a friend, your GP, or one of the many carer support services available can make all the difference. You may also consider joining a carer support group.
Mental Health Carers Australia’s free, 24 hour telephone support line provides carers with access to someone who is able to listen and connect you with relevant community based support services for caregivers.
Phone: 1300 554 660
Carers Australia’s helpline is available 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday. The line is staffed by experienced Carer Support Officers who offer emotional support, referrals, and distribute carer specific resources and information. You can talk to Carer Support Officers about a referral to short term counselling services provided through the National Carer Counselling Program.
Phone: 1800 242 636
Carers Associations around the country have support groups for carers, including for caregivers supporting someone with a mental illness. You can find your state or territory Carers Association here or by calling 1800 242 636 (free call from landlines).
This guides provides loads of helpful advice and tips about caring for others as well as yourself.
Offers a range of brochures and resources specifically for carers of people with mental illness.
An easy and anonymous way is to connect with others, share experiences and get self-care ideas.