Being a carer can be demanding, so finding the time to look after your own physical health can be really hard. It can also be difficult to know where to start when trying to become healthier, or even to notice sometimes when you are letting your usual good habits slip.
Where do I start?
Like everyone, it is vital that you do try to stay well. This is not only for your own sake, but also for the sake of the person you care for, as they rely on you being well enough to keep looking after them.
To help, we have provided an overview of the most fundamental things you can do to look after your own physical health, as well as some ideas for how to fit them in around your other commitments.
The NHS also have some resources here that you could use as a starting point: Live Well – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Wellness Wheel: The Wellness Wheel
What about staying active?
Exercise can help to keep you healthy by lowering your risk of developing long-term conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and cancer. It can also boost your self-esteem, improve your mood and help you to sleep better. Being fit and active can also can assist with the physical demands of your caring role by lowering your risk of injury and helping to keep your energy levels high. Here is more information about taking care of your body as a carer.
Looking after your Body as a Carer
For many carers, finding the time to go for a long run, attend an exercise class or go to the gym may seem simply impossible. However, staying active doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Sometimes just a five-minute walk down the road or a jog around the garden can make the world of difference.
Try to think of ways you could bring more activity into your normal day. For example, if you usually drive or get public transport when running errands locally, why not walk instead or get off the bus stop early?
If you struggle to get time out of the house by yourself, you could try an exercise DVD or a workout video on YouTube. There are lots to choose from, catering for all ages and levels of fitness. You could even do one that combines exercise with relaxation, such as yoga. There are some on this NHS page: Better Health – NHS (www.nhs.uk) and many apps on this page to help you. If staying active is something that the person you are caring for also struggles with, you could find a video that is suitable for their needs too, and do it together. It could be fun and good for your relationship as well.
The key to making this a lasting change is to find some form of exercise that you enjoy so that it becomes something you look forward to rather than a chore. Think about any exercise you have enjoyed before, and whether you could do it again now. You could even think as far back as the sports you enjoyed playing at school, and see if anywhere local is offering a suitable option that you could take part in. It may even be a good way to meet new friends. For some inspiration and downloadable resources, you can try: Getting Started – We Are Undefeatable
If you have any health conditions that might impact your ability to exercise, talk to your GP or another medical professional for their advice about the types of exercise that would be best for you.
Exercising at Home
Sometimes I’m just too tired. Any tips?
Yes, your sleep is vital to your well-being both physically and mentally. Sometimes caring can interrupt your sleep and it is important to try and get back on track as soon as you can. Here are some sleep tips you can try:
Keep regular sleep hours
Making a habit of going to bed when you feel tired and getting up at roughly the same time helps teach your body to sleep better. Try to avoid napping where possible.
If you are lying awake and unable to sleep, do not force it. Get up and do something relaxing for a bit, and return to bed when you feel sleepier.
Create a restful environment
Dark, quiet and cool environments generally make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Watch our video for tips on how to sleep better. Video: Tips for sleeping better
Write down your worries
If you often lie awake worrying about tomorrow, make it a part of your daily routine before bed to write a list for the next day. This can help put your mind at rest. Video: Tackle your worries
Move more, sleep better
Regular exercise is good for your physical health and your mind too – and being active during the day can help you sleep better. Just remember to avoid vigorous activity near bedtime if it affects your sleep. Better Health: Home workout videos
Put down the pick-me-ups
Caffeine and alcohol can stop you falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Try to cut down on alcohol and avoid caffeine close to bedtime.
How can I get more control over my life?
It is likely that you already have a routine for the person you care for, with everything scheduled to ensure their needs are met. What is much less likely is that you have a routine for your own self-care. But without a concrete plan in place, it can be hard to find the time in your busy life to look after yourself.
The plan can be as complicated as you like, or as simple as some timings hastily jotted down the night before. The most fundamental thing is to take time to think about when you will manage to do all the things you want to do and then commit in advance to doing them.
If you are not able to find any time at all in your daily routine for self-care, then that is likely a sign that you are overstretching yourself. There are some good tips for getting some respite here.
Finding Time for Yourself
Annual Health Checks
We are urging GPs to offer carers a free annual health check to those signed up for their surgery as a carer. This is to empower carers to look after their own physical health, avoid future health complications and ensure they are physically fit to continue in caring roles.
Why get a free annual health check?
Carers can often neglect their own health and needs, leading to poorer physical and mental health, which can have an impact on their caring role. An annual health check can help you stay well by talking to a doctor or nurse about your health and finding any problems early, so they can be resolved.
There is a link between your physical and mental health, therefore looking after your physical health can help to improve your overall health and wellbeing.
What to expect:
If you go for your annual health check, they will check:
- Your blood pressure
- The level of glucose (sugar) in your blood
- The level of cholesterol in your blood
- Your height and weight
- How much alcohol you drink
- Whether you smoke
How do I book an annual health check?
You will need to talk to your GP surgery to see if they are offering carers the service. You will also need to be registered with your surgery as a carer. At Carers in Bedfordshire we can confirm your carer status, if required.
Health checks (SMI)
Our health nurse is available to complete annual health checks for people with, and carers of people with, a severe mental illness (SMI). People with an SMI are at increased risk of developing physical health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. An annual health check aims to prevent physical health conditions by screening for and recognising early signs of disease. Many people with SMI do not visit their GP surgery regularly; our nurse is able to complete health checks at home or in a suitable community venue.
A health check monitors blood pressure, glucose levels, and lifestyle and offers an opportunity to talk about the medication already being taken.
Carers UK Digital Offer – Free Access
Access to the Carers UK digital offer including access to the joint app is now freely available for the next 12 months until March 2024 for all carers within the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care System.
The Digital Resource for Carers is an online platform that hosts a wealth of resources for carers to help you build resilience in your caring role. The resources include e-learning, guides and comprehensive signposting, access to MyBackUp, a simple contingency planning tool for what might happen in an emergency, and Jointly, Carers UK’s care coordination app.
To access the free resources:
Input free access code of Jointly Code DPCN9372 Password dpcn9372, alongside personal details.
Tell your GP you are a carer
You should tell your GP that you are an unpaid carer. They will be able to code you and any young carers in your household by using a SNOMED code. A SNOMED code is used on electronic records by healthcare professionals as a way to identify and support patients better. There are SNOMED codes for a patient who themselves provide care, a child providing informal care and a carer has a carer contingency/emergency plan.
These codes are:
224484003 – Patients themselves providing care
204091000000106 – child providing informal care
1366321000000106 – Has Carer Contingency/Emergency Plan
You should tell your GP that you would like to put a contingency number in place if you are unwell, so they know who to contact for the person you care for in case of an emergency.
Here is some more information about why it’s important to tell your GP you are a carer.
Why Should I tell my GP?
Download a GP Letter Template Here