When someone you care about is struggling, it's easy to put everything you have into making sure they're OK.
But while it's great to 'show up' for the people we love, doing so can sometimes take its toll on us too. That's if we're so busy caring we forget to be there for ourselves, anyway.
And you know what? It's much more common than you'd think.
The latest research from NHS Digital suggests there's been a steady increase in the number of carers feeling stressed or depressed in the UK. And this is just as prevalent in the US - as many as 40% to 70% of 41 million unpaid American caregivers report clinical symptoms of depression.
One of the concerns is that many people caring for someone else's mental health don't actually see themselves as carers. And this 'hidden' form of caring can mean you take on more than you have the capacity for without even realising it.
But you can't just 'switch off' and stop caring about someone close to you - so what's the solution?
So while there's no magic formula for being the best support for others and yourself, there are things you can do to help. Here's how to 'show up' when someone needs you and save some room for your own needs too.
Keep Your Routine
From the morning through to the evening, try to keep some semblance of what you normally do throughout your day. Sure, some aspects of your average day might fall by the wayside. But by keeping hold of the basics, i.e. cooking yourself meals and getting outside, you might find it helps to lighten the load.
"If you eat healthy and take care of yourself, you may find some peace of mind," says Cheryl Beutell, APRN, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Northwestern Medicine. "As clinicians, we want you to find ways to make routines that support better health."
Sound advice for anyone having a tough time; and essential for caregivers.
Are you finding your brain still whirring at night? That's understandable when you're juggling somebody else's needs and your own. Try giving these sleep hacks a go to help you switch off before bedtime.
Do Therapeutic Things
When people are feeling down, one of the best bits of advice is to "go back to basics" or "self-soothe". But this goes for you too.
Whether it's a relaxing bath in the evening or switching off those notifications and starting a book instead, take time to recharge your own batteries.
Funnily enough, one of the best ways to fill the tank is to drain it first; a high-intensity workout or more relaxed yoga session can help you shake off any worries or anxiety, helping you hit the hard reset. That way, you can go again tomorrow feeling refreshed and ready to be there.
We all need to make time for self-care. It's a non-negotiable. But if you're finding it difficult to make room for you right now, check out these 8 simple ways to make time for yourself every day and book in some 'me-time'.
And lastly, try not to feel guilty about any minutes or hours you save for yourself. The person you're caring for would certainly agree you deserve the time - so take it.
Find Your Outlet
When we care for someone, we're often an outlet for them, a shoulder to lean on. But once you've said goodbye face-to-face or put down the phone, what are you supposed to do with what you've heard, and how you're feeling?
Whether it's leaning on friends and family or filling the pages of your journal, try and find a healthy outlet to offload. Journaling is a good option if the person you're supporting is speaking to you in confidence. Not only is this your own private place to reflect and empty your mind, studies have revealed that people who write their thoughts and feelings onto paper are more able to handle emotional stress than those who don't.
But this isn't about you, right? Not so fast.
You might feel like your own emotions aren't as important right now. But when someone else is relying on you to be there, it's never been more important to keep your own foundations sturdy. Just remember: you're not a superhero. You can only do your best.
Understand Your Limits
To be the best support you can, it's essential to understand your own limits.
Easier said than done, though, isn't it?
Especially when there's no rulebook to caring and 'capacity' looks different for everyone.
But regardless of how much you feel like you can give, be kind and give yourself a break.
That's where setting boundaries comes in. For example, you could tell someone that whilst 9-12am may be a busy time at work, you are free to talk on your lunch break.
Sure, this may feel uncomfortable at first - we get it. And you might feel guilty for expressing your needs when someone is going through a difficult time. But this can be a much better option than taking 'that call' when you're busy, preoccupied and unable to give them your undivided attention.
And you're not doing this alone.
Although it's hard to step back and let others help, there are places people can turn to for support. Crisis lines like Samaritans (UK) and Lifeline (US) are available 24 hours a day. You can still 'be there' by ensuring they know where to go when you can't be around. So it might feel like it sometimes, but remember, it's not all on you.
Keep In Mind
Try and imagine that when you’re supporting someone, you’re holding their bags for a bit. Sure, you can lighten their load for a while, but you can’t take the weight forever. All you can do is be there to listen when they need an ear and offer some advice if and when they need it. And you know what? That’s often much more of a help than you realise.