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 stressful 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, guidance from a specialist and purposeful decision-making (no mean tasks!) – 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.
  2. Regular exercise – Make time to participate in physical and recreational endeavours – running, cycling, swimming and so forth – either alone or in company. 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 – I personally think that there is great value in ‘interpersonal connectedness’ when it comes to ensuring a satisfactory standard of wellbeing. This topic relates to keeping in touch – and enjoying positive 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, hill walking, coffee mornings, working in allotments, to name but a few.
  5. A fully balanced lifestyle – I suggest that perhaps a better way 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 find genuine job satisfaction. Place an emphasis on enhancing the quality of your experiences and of carrying out your daily chores. The importance of organising caring schedules to minimise or avoid stress should never be underestimated.
  6. Personal therapeutic practices – 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. Learning new skills and enrolling on an academic or practical course also are potential sources of pleasure and inner satisfaction. 
  7. Self-compassion – By all means continue to be compassionate and caring to others but do not forget to be self-compassionate. Be good to yourself. You matter. 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 goes, “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. If necessary, seek professional guidance. Look after yourself.

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