Care work can be rewarding. However care work can also be challenging. It can be busy. It can be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. You may look after many clients – all with different needs. Or you may look after one client round the clock. You may have to travel around a lot and may be very busy each day. We suggest some ideas to help you to take care of yourself whilst caring for others.
Managing the demands of care work
Sofia found balancing her time between being a care worker and looking after her young family difficult. She told us, “I work evenings and weekends to fit in with my partner’s work shifts and looking after the kids. I don’t really have time for myself”
Working long hours, shift work and devoting your time and energy to caring for others can an affect your physical and mental health.
You may find it difficult to find time to do the things you need to do and the things you enjoy. Changes to your sleep and eating habits can affect your energy levels, stress levels and mood.
Lots of homecare workers are employed on a ‘zero-hour contract’. This means that you don’t have a fixed working schedule and instead work ‘as and when’. This type of contract can give you flexibility at work, but it can also mean you might have too much or too little work. This can be difficult to manage.
There may be things you can do to help make care work more manageable for you. You might:
- Talk to your employer if you feel you need to adjust your work patterns or take time off
- Check your employment contract to make sure you aren’t working too many hours or for options around flexibility
- Make sure you make time in your day to look after your own essential needs (food breaks; toilet breaks etc)
- Try to plan in regular breaks to allow you to recover
- Find a work pattern that works for you
- Talk to your employer about any policies they may have to support you
Looking after your wellbeing and mental health
Caring for others can affect your feelings and emotions. How you feel is important. The challenges of caring may leave you feeling tired, worried, anxious, stressed, down or even depressed. Speak to your employer if you feel your work is affecting your mental health.
There are also organisations who can help with your mental wellbeing.
The Care Workers Charity is an organisation specially to support people providing care as their job. They can provide support to with a range of problems including how to look after your mental wellbeing.
The Mind website offers some helpful tips for looking after yourself as a carer (family, friends or paid carers). These include:
- Sharing your feelings
- Finding ways to stay organised
- Try to be realistic about what you can achieve
- Taking breaks
The NHS’ Better Health website has tips and advice for looking after your own wellbeing and mental health, while supporting others. Their free ‘Mind Plan’ app is free to download.
Start your own dementia toolkit
It is important to look after your own safety when working in someone else’s home. Your organisation may have their own guidelines and reporting systems. For example, risk assessments, lone working policies and reporting incidents.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identify health and safety risks for care workers providing care in peoples home. It has helpful information about a range of issues you may be concerned about. Such as:
- Moving and handling
- Dealing with challenging behaviour
- Equipment safety
- Hot water and hot surfaces
- Bedrail entrapment
- Slips and trips
- Lone working
- First aid
Make sure you understand the risks of supporting people living with dementia at home and try to keep yourself safe from risks too. These could include knowing who to contact in an emergency and having a plan.
Inez praised the support of her colleagues when she was struggling at work. She told us “I’m lucky to have a good team around me. When it all got on top of me, it really helped to talk it through with people who understand and could help me think of solutions”.