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Staying well as a young carer


As a young person, you might feel like staying well is pretty easy. But being young doesn’t make you invincible. Making healthy changes can help you to stay well now, but also long into the future when these decisions will really matter.

So what should you do to try and stay healthy? You may feel bombarded with advice from lots of different sources about what being healthy involves, and it can all feel a bit overwhelming. Sometimes it can be difficult to see how this advice fits into your life as a young carer. It might seem better suited to other young people who don’t have caring responsibilities.

To help, we have put together a summary of the most important things you can do to stay healthy, as well as some tips about how to fit them in around being a young carer.

Eating healthily will boost your energy levels, make you feel better and help you get through your busy day.

It can be confusing to understand exactly what is or isn’t healthy food though. Here is some guidance for how to eat healthily:

  • Try to eat three balanced meals a day. Aim for most meals to contain a mix of: fruits or vegetables; starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta; dairy like milk, cheese or yogurt; and proteins such as beans, fish, eggs or meat.
  • Aim to eat five portions of different fruit and vegetables per day, and for these to make up at least a third of all the food you eat. One portion is 80g, so roughly one apple, banana, orange or pear, two plums or satsumas or one cup of grapes or berries. Frozen, tinned or dried fruit and vegetables also count. You could also have a glass of fruit juice as one of your five a day. Fruits and vegetables give your body lots of energy and also plenty of vitamins and minerals to keep it working well. They also contain lots of fibre which fills you up, and stops you feeling hungry later.
  • Try to avoid too many chocolate bars, sweets, biscuits, cakes, pastries, crisps, sugary drinks, puddings, fast food, takeaways or ready meals. Although these foods can be easy and tasty, they often contain a lot of salt, sugar and/or fat and also don’t fill you up so you will probably just be hungry again soon. This doesn’t mean you should never have them, but just save them to have as a treat instead.
  • Don’t skip meals. You might not always feel like eating, particularly if you are worried about something or you are very busy. But think of your body like a car – it needs fuel to work. It is particularly important to eat breakfast as your body hasn’t refuelled since the night before, and a good meal first thing can give you the energy you need to get going properly in the morning.
  • Drink plenty of water. Aim to have between six and eight glasses of water or other drinks a day, to keep yourself hydrated – even more if it is a hot day or you have been moving around a lot. The best drink to have is just tap water, but if you want something a bit more interesting you could have a sugar-free fizzy drink or squash instead.

The NHS Eatwell Guide gives more advice about how to eat a balanced diet, as well as ideas for easy and healthy recipes you could try.

As a young carer, you are more likely than your friends to be responsible for choosing and making your own meals. Although this is a lot of work, it does mean that it can be easier for you to choose to eat healthily and cook only food that makes you feel good. Plus, if you are also responsible for making meals for your family, when you prepare healthy food you are helping to look after them too.

If you struggle to find the time to cook a healthy meal every day, you could try batch cooking, where you prepare food for more than one meal at once. You could make a big pot of soup, stew, chilli or curry, for instance, then divide it into smaller portions and freeze them. That way you have a meal that is ready to grab and reheat on particularly busy days. This is just as easy as a ready meal, but likely much cheaper and healthier.

If you don’t currently make your own meals, then it doesn’t mean you can’t still try to eat more healthily. Try asking whoever plans and makes your meals if you can be involved in choosing what you eat and helping to make it. It’s likely they will be pleased at you taking an interest and wanting to take on some of this responsibility.

Exercising regularly is a very important way to look after yourself. It is good for your body and gives you more energy. It can also help you take your mind off everything, make you feel happier and reduce your stress levels. It is particularly important if you are a young carer as keeping active can mean you are less likely to injure yourself when looking after someone else.

And the best thing about staying active is it can be really fun. You could pick a sport you already enjoy, maybe one you have played at school like football, rugby, dancing, hockey or netball. Why not ask a parent or guardian whether you could join a club or take classes locally? Perhaps see if any of your friends want to take part with you too.

Don't worry if that's a bit too involved for you though. Staying active doesn’t necessarily need lots of time or expensive equipment. If you have a garden or a local park nearby, try running laps of it. You could even time yourself and then see if you can beat your time.

If you struggle to get much time out of the house, why not try a workout video on YouTube? There are lots to choose from, for all ages. You could even do one that combines exercise with relaxation, such as yoga. Try doing it together with a friend or sibling to make it more fun.

Many young carers have trouble sleeping. It could be that you need to get up regularly in the night to look after a parent or sibling. Or you might want to stay up late catching up on all the fun things you have missed out on during the day like playing video games or talking to friends. Or you might just have a lot on your mind that stops you being able to sleep well.

But it is important to try and get plenty of sleep when you can. The amount of sleep you need depends on your age – check out this guide from the NHS to see how much you should be aiming for.

Without enough sleep it can be hard to have the energy to look after the person you care for as well as to concentrate at school, do your homework and have fun too. Sleep can also boost your immune system, making it less likely you will catch colds and other illnesses, and helps your body repair itself overnight. If you have plenty of sleep, you are also likely to feel happier and less stressed too. You probably know yourself how much better you feel when you’ve had a good rest.

Here are some tips to help improve your sleep:

  • If you have a lot of drinks with caffeine in (like coke, tea or coffee) it can help to cut back on these, especially towards the end of the day.
  • Why not set yourself a bedtime to aim for, and have the same routine every day before bed to help you wind down to sleep? To help even more you could include relaxing things like having a bath, playing calming music or reading a book.
  • Try turning off your phone in the evening and avoid watching TV too close to bedtime, to help you unwind.
  • It often doesn’t help to lie in bed for a long time, tossing and turning and getting increasingly frustrated that you can’t sleep. It can help to get up and do something else for a bit, such as reading a book, before going back to bed and trying again.
  • It can sometimes help to write down everything on your mind, whether that’s the things that are worrying you or things you need to do the next day.

If you often struggle to sleep or you are worried about it, try talking to your GP and see what further help they can give you. If you are finding it hard to sleep because you are worrying about things, then you could also take a look at our guide 'Managing difficult emotions as a young carer'.

You should tell your GP that you are a young carer. That way they will be able to provide you with a wide range of support and advice.

It is very easy to do. Some GPs have a form on their website you can fill in to notify them. Otherwise, you can either call them up, drop them an email, or write them a letter. Simply inform them that you are a young carer and tell them who you care for.

Or, if you are currently suffering and would like some further help, then you may want to book an appointment with your GP. At this you could then tell them about being a carer, and talk to them about the impact it is having on you, so they can help.

Some young carers are worried about telling their GPs about their role because they think they or their family might get in trouble. But that is the last thing that would happen – they just want to make sure you have the help you need.

Online Help and Advice

Visit our online support section where we have provided advice and guidance on a range of relevant topics to help you in your caring role.

Online support
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