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Taking breaks as a carer


Taking a break as a carer can be one of the hardest parts of the role. It can be difficult practically to take some time off and still ensure your friend or relative is being looked after. But it can also be emotionally difficult, with many carers reporting that they feel guilty for taking a break.

You should never feel bad for needing to take some time away from being a carer. Nobody expects other people to work continuously without any days off or holidays, and most other roles are far less physically and emotionally demanding than caring.

Plus, not only is taking a break important for you, it is also important for the person you care for. Taking breaks is fundamental to how resilient you are as a carer and how well you are able to manage the role in the longer term. It can also be good for both of you to have some time away from each other. You will likely appreciate the time you spend together more as a result. And in many cases the person you care for will be happier knowing that you are able to take some time to rest, relax and enjoy yourself. Just as you want to make sure they are looked after, it is likely they also want to make sure you are too.

Video: The importance of taking breaks as a carer

You should aim to have regular short breaks, combined with some more occasional longer breaks. It’s good to plan both short and long breaks in advance where possible. This not only gives you something to look forward to, but it also means the person you care for can prepare themselves for not having you around.

It can be tempting to use all of your time off to do other tasks such as managing your finances, running errands or doing housework. Whilst these things are important, you need to have breaks that are focused on helping you to relax as well.

Why not use your breaks to pursue your hobbies or other interests? If you don’t already have a hobby, it can be great to take one up when you are a carer. It can really help to have things in your life you enjoy, alongside your caring role. You could enquire at your local library about evening classes and other courses and events they run. They may even be subsidized for people in your circumstances.

It is also great to try and take breaks to spend time with friends and family members. Why not also try and socialize with other carers, so you can share your experiences with each other? You will likely find they have the same frustrations as you and you may even be able to give each other useful hints and tips.

Many carers also find it helpful to have some unstructured time by themselves, where they can just relax alone and take time to reflect, process and unwind. If you find just sitting doing nothing very difficult, you could try taking a long bath. Even just having a little bit of time to yourself can help to clear your head, recharge your batteries and make you feel so much better about everything.

One of the things that can hold carers back from taking breaks is the worry that replacement care will be either very complicated to arrange or unaffordable. But it doesn’t have to be.

For short breaks, don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family member for help. They may well be wanting to assist but are unsure of the best way to do so, or don’t realise you need help. If someone who is going to be covering for you hasn’t done it before, it can help to write up some notes for them, especially about essentials such as what medication they need to give and how to use any equipment or aids required.

Even if a friend or family member doesn’t feel comfortable taking on all of your caring responsibilities, they may still be willing to help with some parts of your role, such as sitting and chatting with the person you care for, preparing meals or doing housework.

If this option doesn’t work for you, then it’s good to look into arranging something more formal. This is often known as either replacement care or respite care. Short-term options could include a ‘sitting service’ using trained volunteers or accessing a local day centre. Longer-term care could either be provided by professional carers in your friend or relative’s home (this is known as domiciliary care) or in a local care home.

Your local authority may be able to help you to arrange replacement care through a carer’s assessment which will identify if you need a break and what support you might be eligible for. They may even fund some elements of it. It is always worth checking exactly what they will support and if there are any other costs on top of this, including things such as transport and meals. You may also want to look into whether taking a break will impact your benefits – Carer's Allowance and Attendance Allowance can both potentially be affected by respite breaks, depending on how long you take.

It is worth trying to plan ahead as much as possible when arranging replacement care. Many services are in high demand so are booked up in advance. Others find it difficult to accommodate last minute requests because they don’t have the right rooms or staff available at short notice.

Whatever option you choose, it’s important to try and discuss the decision with the person you care for, and involve them in the process where possible. It can help to explain why the respite care is required as well as exactly what will happen and how long it will last for.

Planning ahead will also allow you plenty of time to look into all the available care options, talk to providers and perhaps even visit where your friend or relative will be staying and meet the people who will be caring for them. You could even bring the person you care for along to visit too. All of this can make you feel more confident about the care they will be receiving and allow you to relax more fully during your break, knowing they are in safe hands.

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.

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