I'm a psychologist – start saying NO and 7 other top tips to put yourself first | The Sun

ALWAYS putting others first can take a real toll on your health – don’t forget, it’s important to take care of you, too.

Being a carer is tough, as one in eight adults in the UK will know. A whopping 6.5 million of us care for a loved one, and according to the charity Carers UK, 58% of them are women. 

You might be looking after ailing parents, or a child or sibling with additional needs – and that’s alongside the housework, paying the bills, and getting the kids off to school.

Looking after yourself can quickly end up at the bottom of the pile. And with 72% of carers saying they have suffered mental illness, and 61% physical illness, as a result of caring, it’s vital to protect your mind and body. But that doesn’t have to mean splashing out on a pricey spa day. 

“If you believe you shouldn’t have needs, that belief shows up in the choices you make and in your priorities, which will lead to exhaustion, resentment, self-criticism and exploitation,” says Rod Vincent, co-author of The Super-Helper Syndrome with fellow chartered psychologist Jess Baker. “You have needs – everyone does. It’s about knowing what your needs are and paying attention to them.” 

Here’s how to carve out some precious time for yourself, which will help you and those you care for.


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Understand That Self-Care Isn't Selfish

Wanting to spend time on yourself is not selfish, even if we’re sometimes made to feel that it is.

“There’s a view that if you’re a woman working and looking after family, everything should always be about other people and it’s wrong to look after yourself,” says Jess. But switching the language you use in your head can help squash the guilt.

“Be aware of thoughts containing the words ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘ought to’ or ‘shouldn’t have done that’, as they’re signs of irrational thinking. Without realising it, these are internal commands we try to meet, and in doing so, we disregard our own needs,” she says. “Instead, use language such as: ‘I’m doing my best’, ‘I deserve to have my own needs met’, 

and ‘The better I care for myself, the better I can care for others.’” 

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Put Some Me-Time In The Diary

Make self-care a priority by making arrangements for it, so you view it as just as important as your work

One of the simplest ways to ringfence self-care is to book it in your diary.

“It’s not so much ‘finding time’ as re-prioritising it. Imagine that you are booking in a meeting with an important customer or someone you love – treat time to yourself with the same priority. You wouldn’t cancel at the last minute or find an excuse to bow out, which we so often do when it comes to ourselves,” says Jess.

“As for what you do with that time, think about what you enjoy doing, as opposed to what you feel you ‘should’ be doing, and don’t beat yourself up about all the things you’re not doing.

“Giving yourself that time is going to replenish and re-energise you, so you’ll feel better about yourself – and that’s going to have a positive impact on the people around you.” 

Assess Your Relationships

When caring comes naturally to you, it can end up becoming something you do in other relationships, too, which can wear you out.

“Look at the people around you, such as your partner and friends,” says Rod. “Are they really friends, or are they people you’re also helping? You need to have people who give as much to you as you give to them, or even more so, if you’re helping others a lot,” says Rod. 

If someone is draining your resources, Rod says: “Understand what your boundaries are, know what you are prepared to do and not do, who you’re going to help, how and when. Don’t be afraid of saying no, and don’t apologise. Saying: ‘I’d like to help, but it’s not convenient for me at the moment,’ is a polite and clear way of doing so.” 

Don't Let Resentment Build Up

Are you starting to resent the person you care for?

Jess says this typically happens if you, the person you’re caring for, or both of you, are ignoring your needs.

“Discuss how you are feeling, and what those needs are,” says Jess. It could be space, a change in routine or more help.

“Having a difficult conversation is better than waiting, because resentment doesn’t go away by itself but builds up like water behind a dam – and when it breaks through, it can hurt everyone.”

Ask for Help

Ironically, carers are often bad at asking for help themselves.

“Having someone to talk to, who will listen to you rather than you always being the one listening, is something we all need,” says Rod. “So don’t feel like a burden for asking for that.”

Be specific about the kind of help you need, adds Jess. “You might not want a friend to come up with solutions, but just to listen. There are also 24-hour helplines to whom you can offload.” You can call Samaritans free on 116 123. 

Carers UK, meanwhile, connects carers with other carers, so that you can chat to someone who knows what you’re going through. The charity also helps you navigate the care system, with advice on everything from how to manage a loved one’s affairs, to handling hospital stays and end-of-life care. 

Remember You Have A Choice

No matter how much you love the person, caring for somebody can make you feel trapped. It could be down to a lack of money or support, or feeling exhausted by how much you have to do. Some of this is out of your control, but look at what you can do. 

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“Honestly appraise your situation and realise what your options are,” suggests Rod. That could include seeking external support from Carers Trust (Carers.org), which provides financial advice for unpaid carers and can connect you with local groups that provide respite care and short breaks so you can get away for a couple of nights for a proper rest. 

Rod suggests that changing your mindset can also lighten the load. “Realising you have a choice is beneficial, even if you choose to carry on doing what you’re doing. Choosing to carry on because you love this person and want the best for them and you’re choosing to do that, can lead to feeling liberated rather than trapped.” 

Exist in the moment

Even snatching small bits of time can help.

Rod and Jess suggest rethinking how you do everyday, mundane tasks and use those moments as a restful mental break.

“There is a lot of science to back up the benefits of being present on purpose,” says Jess.

She recommends listening to calming music or a guided meditation – try the Buddhify app – when you walk the dog or do the food shop, to calm and ground yourself.

Rod adds: “I often sit for a couple of minutes and just focus on my breathing. It takes me out of the day-to-day rush or the panic I might be in to get something done.”

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