Good Practices: Good Mental Health among Carers

The maintenance of good mental health among caregivers is immensely important. Potentially useful pointers are offered for consideration in this brief article.

Frank O’Hagan

The commitments and duties of carers are often very challenging and exhausting. In what ways, can this serious concern be addressed? One major complication is that a person’s body, mind, consciousness and activities are linked in many different ways not yet fully understood. So what is fitting for one person may not suit another. At the same time, there appears to be an overall consensus about the value of having good physical health, together with high-quality mental health, in ensuring a satisfying standard of everyday living when undertaking your responsibilities as a caregiver.

The aim in this brief article is not to make precise recommendations but rather to offer pointers which I feel are at least worthy of reflection. In general terms, the list below is of particular significance when issues regarding mental health are under consideration. Of course, given the complexities of modern life, its contents may not be applicable in some circumstances. And – after some deliberation, perhaps requesting guidance from a specialist, and purposeful decision-making – you can make up your own mind on what requires resolute, affirmative action!

  1. Nourishing bodily intake – Thoughtfulness needs to be given to: healthy eating (not forgetting fruit and vegetables!); body weight; the usage of vitamins and probiotics; and, if appropriate, dieting. At the same time, avoidance of the excess of alcohol or medication, and not smoking, merit inclusion under this point. In particular, beware of harmful forms of ‘comfort eating’ in attempting to overcome distress.
  2. Health and physical exercise – Look after your general health, monitoring as necessary your eyesight, hearing, sleep habits and, as indicated already, diet. Make time to participate in relevant, recreational endeavours – walking, running, cycling, swimming and so forth – either alone or in company. Steer clear of air pollution and dangerous situations. If unable or restricted with regard to going out, then try to arrange beneficial routines so that some form of physical activities can be undertaken indoors.   
  3. Connectedness – Like it or not, we are all social animals. There is great value in authentic ‘interpersonal connectedness’ when it comes to safeguarding a satisfactory standard of wellbeing. We need to make suitable interventions to counteract deleterious outcomes linked with, for example, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), high anxiety, depression and isolation. This topic also relates to keeping in touch – and enjoying constructive relationships – with family, friends and neighbours.
  4. Participation in groups – Associated with social involvement is membership of a group or groups. Participation can be either as a signed-up member or as a volunteer to help others. The choice of which specific areas are of interest will vary across a very wide spectrum – support sessions for carers, reading clubs, hill walking, coffee mornings, working in allotments, to name but a few.
  5. A fully balanced lifestyle – I suggest that perhaps a better manner of looking at what is often referred to as ‘work-life balance’ is to adopt a more integrated, holistic approach. Although work is often viewed in a negative way, for carers it can offer opportunities to meet others and to attain genuine job satisfaction. Place an emphasis on enriching the quality of carrying out your daily obligations and chores. The importance of well-organised caring programs and the implementation of sustainable coping strategies should never be underestimated.
  6. Personal therapeutic practices – Plan ahead for engagement in meaningful and life-affirming activities. There are many different forms of therapeutic pursuits which may result in greater peace of mind, insightfulness and enjoyment. These can include: breathing exercises, reading, painting, gardening, cooking, board games, craft work and participation in mindfulness sessions. Additionally, learning new skills and enrolling on an academic or practical course are potential sources of pleasure and inner satisfaction. 
  7. Self-compassion – By all means continue to be compassionate and caring to others. However, do not forget to be self-compassionate also. Be good to yourself. You matter. Identify innovative procedures and mechanisms to enhance your lifestyle; take care to avoid unnecessary, stressful occasions; and explore how best to adopt a positive and purposeful mindset. Find delight in what you are undertaking on behalf of a fellow human being. If your health suffers, it can be a tragedy for the person for whom you are caring. As the aphorism advises, “If you’re going to thrive, you must at first survive.
  8. Requesting assistance – If times are out of control and you feel vulnerable and deserted, do not be afraid to discuss your worries and apprehensions with trusted family members, other caregivers and/or friends. Select a reliable person or persons who can listen, understand your ‘lived experiences’, and provide valuable advice and collaboration. If necessary, seek professional guidance. Look after yourself.

Take care. Stay safe. Enjoy good mental health. And, of course, always remember that you matter!