There are now one in eight, or more than 2.7 million Australians providing unpaid care to a loved one with a disability, mental illness, health condition or who is elderly. Caring for someone can be challenging both physically and mentally and often when someone becomes a caregiver, they put their own health needs to the side.
In the lead up to Women’s Health Week (4th – 8th September), it’s a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of maintaining health and wellness when caring for others especially considering more than two thirds of all unpaid carers in Australia are female.
“Now that we are living longer, we are starting to see an increase in middle aged women getting ‘sandwiched’ between looking after their own children and looking after their parents,” said Sally Kirkright, CEO of AccessEAP, a leading Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider in Australia.
“Their own health issues often go ignored for a period while they prioritise other people’s health.”
Carers have the lowest wellbeing of any large group measured by the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index. They are also 40% more likely to suffer from a chronic health condition than non-carers, including anxiety and depression.
“Carers often also report feeling guilty about taking time out for themselves so will choose not to. If carers are not taking care of themselves it can lead to stress and caregiver burnout, a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion,” said Ms Kirkright.
According to Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (2015), more than two thirds of all unpaid carers in Australia are female and at least 56 per cent of primary carers are also engaged in the paid workforce.
“As female carers’ ability to participate full-time in paid employment is impacted by the needs of those they care for, the average annual income of carers is well below that of non-carers. The unique demands associated with being a carer places many women at a significant financial disadvantage across the course of their lifetime. As a result, financial stress is one of the main contributors to stress and anxiety for primary carers.”
From time-to-time, carers will need extra help and support. This can be in the form of counselling for the carer or respite services for the person they care for. Having this additional support may enable you to stay in the caring role for longer.
Here are some tips to help avoid caregiver burnout:
1) Develop a schedule and get into a good routine: A consistent schedule will help make life easier both for the carer and the person they are caring for.
2) Remember to take care of you: Taking time out for you can help avoid stress. Look after your diet, get regular exercise and maintain your social contacts and lifestyle.
3) Be realistic: Be realistic about what you can expect from yourself and don’t put too much pressure on achieving everything yourself.
4) Get enough rest: Tiredness and exhaustion often add to the stress of caring. Getting enough sleep will help you stay on top of your demanding schedule.
5) Ask for help: Remember to ask for help when it’s needed either from a family member, GP or counsellor.
If you would like more information on maintain health and wellness as a caregiver, please visit www.accesseap.com.au