Six ways to look after your emotional wellbeing when you’re caring for someone

If someone you love is living with a terminal illness, it’s important to remember to look after yourself as well as them. Finding ways to cope with how you’re feeling, as well as with the practical side of being a carer, can help you feel more in control. 

1. Face your feelings

Caring for someone who’s living with a terminal illness can be challenging and upsetting. You may find yourself feeling guilty or resentful, and the demands on your time and energy can be very stressful. You may also feel very sad and begin grieving for your loved one. Some people may experience depression.

 It’s much better to face up to how you’re feeling than ignore it. Remember that there’s no right or wrong way to feel in this situation – everyone is unique and you may feel lots of different emotions at different times.

2. Talk about it 

Talking to someone about how you’re feeling may help you deal with your emotions and the impact that caring for someone is having on your life. This can be a confusing and isolating time, but try to remember that you’re not alone. You could speak to a friend, your GP or a counsellor – or you could see if there’s a support group near you. The Marie Curie Support Line can also offer confidential practical and emotional support to anyone affected by terminal illness; you don’t need to be receiving support from other Marie Curie services to get in touch. The Support Line is free to call on 0800 090 2309 and your call will be answered by trained staff. 

Don’t be afraid to be honest about how you’re feeling – you may want to keep everything inside so as not to worry the person you’re caring for or other members of your family, but it’s important you get the support you need too.

You may also find it helpful to chat with other people who are caring for someone with a terminal illness. The Marie Curie Community is an online forum where anyone affected by terminal illness can share experiences and find and give support.

3. Get enough sleep

It’s easier said than done when you’re looking after someone, but getting a decent amount of sleep can help you feel more able to cope. 

NHS Choices has lots of useful tips if you’re struggling to sleep. If you’re having problems sleeping for more than a few nights, speak to your doctor. 

Marie Curie may also be able to help care for your relative or friend overnight. Find out more about how our nurses care for people in their own homes.

4. Try to eat well

You may find yourself forgetting about your own needs when you’re looking after someone else’s. Eating well is vital – and it can have a positive impact on your mood too.

Try to avoid relying on sugary snacks and convenience foods – they may keep you going in the short term, but can leave you feeling down and low in energy a few hours later. Fresh fruit and veg, foods high in protein such as meat, fish, eggs and beans, and lots of water are key to keeping yourself fuelled for the day. 

5. Build in breaks  

Try to include some time for yourself, even if it’s just going for a short walk or reading a chapter of a book. Writing in a journal can also be a good way to de-stress and help you make sense of things.

Exercise might not be at the top of your agenda, but it’s great for lifting your mood. There are lots of ways to be active at home, such as yoga or gardening. Or you could see if friends or family could help you get out of the house by sitting with your loved one. 

6. Ask for help 

Remember, you don’t have to cope with everything on your own. No one will think any less of you for asking for help when you need it. Your family and friends may not want to intrude and so might be waiting for you to ask them to help out. If you feel you can, why not try giving them jobs that will make your life easier, such as doing some food shopping?

Your GP is also there to support you, whether that’s having a chat or helping you arrange for care or specialist services. Some organisations are also able to provide respite care which can help you have a proper break.

There’s more information about looking after your wellbeing when caring for someone with a terminal illness on our website.

 If you’re coping with bereavement, we have specialist information about grief and loss that may help.