Stressed? It’s Christmas– of course I’m stressed. Like so many others, I am trying to navigate the latest lockdown rules versus what’s safe for my family: I have parents who are both in their 90s, a partner who works in the NHS, and two adult sons who, despite being bah-humbugs, dearly want to see their grandparents. Families nationwide have faced months of fear, loneliness, worry and disappointment. It’s natural for millions of mums (and usually it is us mums) to try to make this year’s celebrations extra special for those we love. And yet despite feeling more frazzled than an overdone roast potato, I know I’ve nothing to moan about.
Across the country, there are an estimated 13.6 million incredible carers who plan every moment around other people’s needs, and with Covid and Christmas to think about too, many are feeling exhausted.
‘Carers often tell us they worry about the impact of caring on their own mental and physical health,’ says Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, one of The Telegraph’s chosen charities for this year’s charity appeal. ‘Our recent survey showed that 64 per cent of carers hadn’t had any breaks since the pandemic started, and many reported feeling worn out. It’s vital that carers try to carve out time for themselves – even just 15 minutes can make a difference. Not getting a break can quickly lead to burnout. So often, carers have to be creative and resilient in making time to do things they love, but we urge them to try to switch off when they can.’
Here’s how these five carers stay strong by finding time for themselves.
‘Painting helps me be in the moment’
Yvonne Taylor, 37, from Bedfordshire, cares for her son, 11, who is autistic and has other complex needs
‘This year has made me realise the importance of caring for myself. Painting is really helpful. It forces me to stop and be in the moment – it gives me a combination of therapy, expressing myself and escapism. When you’re a carer you need something to take your mind off things. I love shapes and bright, vibrant colours. When I look back at the paintings I can analyse what was going through my mind at the time. If I need soothing, it’s round, circular shapes. If I’m stressed, it’s zigzags. My son likes art and we bond over it. I paint with acrylics and do mindful colouring at the end of the day when he’s watching TV. It helps me wind down.
‘I dance around my living room’
Elaine Maltby, 57, from London, looks after her youngest son, Frankie, who is 25 and has Asperger syndrome
‘When you care for someone it’s 24/7, and finding relaxation techniques is really important. I practise deep breathing at least three times a day – always first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I breathe in slowly through my nose and hold the breath for four or five seconds before exhaling through my mouth. Doing four deep breaths makes all the difference. It lets the oxygen flow around your body and calms you, and it only takes 30 seconds to a minute. I also love dancing. I call it a three-minute miracle! I do it a couple of times a day with headphones on, or I ask Alexa to find a song. It could be something from my childhood or the 1980s, like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper or the Bee Gees. I feel the beat, it takes over and there is joy in the moment and the movement of my body.’