Five important tips for becoming a first-time carer

Being a carer can be challenging, but there are ways to reduce the emotional strain of care work. Read on for five tips first-time carers need to bear in mind.

There are now almost 7 million carers in England (PSNC), and every day, 6000 people take on a caring responsibility (Carers UK). Whether you do it for someone you love or as a career, being a carer is one of the most rewarding jobs you can do – but it’s one that comes with huge responsibilities that can really take their toll.

In fact, over 70% of carers struggle with their mental health, and 8 in 10 people caring for their loved ones have felt lonely or socially isolated as a result of caring (Carers UK).

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure you avoid burnout, mental and physical exhaustion, and other mental health issues associated with care work.

In this article, Jason Whitburn from CLH Healthcare shares his advice for new carers who want to deliver high-quality care without burnout. 

1) Take time to process

Becoming a carer is a big decision and requires a lot of time, commitment, and careful planning. Make sure you sit down and process this change of circumstance, then consider what you need in order to be an effective carer.

If you’re caring for a family member or friend, this involves looking into what benefits and financial support you are entitled to. Note that you don’t have to be a relative or even live with the person you care for to claim Carer’s Allowance, but having some financial support can be a huge weight off your mind.

You will also need to plan what supplies and equipment you will require to do your job well, including things like mobility and lifting apparatus, medical devices, and personal protection equipment (PPE). You may think you can do everything yourself, but the right equipment can remove unnecessary strain on your body and mind while allowing you to provide an even higher quality of care.

It’s also essential to plan how you will establish a work/life balance to prevent burnout and both physical and mental exhaustion. Make sure you have your carer’s assessment (Which?) – this assessment considers what you personally need to make your life as a carer easier, from free use of gyms and public transport to training and advice.

You can even request to have someone help out with chores around the home or offer part-time care to ensure you get a break.

2) Establish a routine

One of the best ways to establish a work/life balance and keep burnout at bay is to get into a routine and stick to it. Strict scheduling and even hourly timetabling are essential for ensuring you deliver the same level of care each day, while making it easier to pencil in time for yourself to take breaks and practice self-care.

Try to get into the habit of keeping a diary or taking regular notes throughout the day, to ease the strain of trying to keep up with all your tasks yourself.

A strict routine can also make sharing responsibility with other carers easier to organise, as it will be much easier to keep track of what care has been received and other vital information that can otherwise be easily miscommunicated when going between carers. You’ll likely find that knowing everyone has the correct information thanks to your careful planning will allow you to relax and better enjoy your time off without worry.

3) Keep things sanitary

Sanitation is an important part of delivering care, as it protects the person being cared for as well as yourself from illness or even injury. Depending on your situation, ensure you have the correct PPE, sanitary bins, home cleaning products, and enough spare linens to keep both the patient and yourself comfortable.

While disposing of medical waste correctly may seem like it has too many steps to follow in some cases, particularly when you’re busy with other aspects of care, it’s important for everyone’s safety and health that it’s dealt with correctly. 

Even just keeping on top of household chores, while challenging at times, is essential to keep harmful bacteria and other hazards at bay. If you’re finding it difficult to stay on top of washing and cleaning in addition to your other duties, don’t forget that you may be entitled to help from the government and the NHS when you undergo your carer’s assessment. 

You should also let your GP know you’re a carer as you may be entitled to additional healthcare, such as the free flu jab and other services.

4) Follow health and safety training

There are many official courses a professional carer can do to as part of their training, but some are considered to be mandatory which means that everyone must pass these particular courses in order to work as a carer.

You don’t have to attend any classes or pass any tests to care for a loved one, but it is recommended you do so in order to deliver the best care possible. You may gain some valuable tips and insight that can make your care work easier too.

Many of these courses are available to access online, and some are even free. Often, they can be done in one day, and they usually cover everything from manual handling to emergency CPR. So, you can make sure you have all the knowledge you need to safely give care and protect yourself from harm too. You may even find it comforting knowing that you’re trained to deal with difficult situations and emergencies.

5 )Reach out for support

Care can be lonely, as many people leave work to become a carer and their ordinary social lives outside of work can dwindle if not nurtured properly. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to struggle alone. Reach out to family, friends, and neighbours, even just for a chat, and you’ll be surprised by how comforting sharing your experience with another person can be. 

You can also get in touch with emotional support services who are trained to give you the advice and attention that you need. Try to use a service that’s specifically for carers, as they may understand your particular situation better than general helplines and they will be able to give you the best advice — you can search emotional support services for carers on the NHS website.

Care for yourself as well as others

There are many reasons why people become carers, and it’s one of the most rewarding roles you can have in life. But making sure you’re prepared and looking after yourself is important if you want to avoid burnout and continue to deliver the best care you can.