Stress and depression can affect anyone, and the responsibilities of caring can make you more susceptible, particularly if you find yourself isolated or cut off from others socially. Our guidance offers help on how to spot the signs, find support and develop resilience both now and over the long term.
Help and support
If life feels hard at the moment, try to take things one step at a time and know you're not alone – there is much support and help available. We hope you find the information below helpful as a starting point.
We have all experienced stress at some point and there are many different triggers for people. Feelings of anxiety can gradually build up and can even leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Stress is caused by the many demands made on our time and energy and can be heightened by the expectations we have of ourselves. We know that some forms of stress are not always negative –alerting you to potential dangers or spurring you on to achieve a goal or complete a task. However, sometimes the balance tips too far and the pressure becomes so intense or so persistent that you may feel unable to cope.
Stress can make it hard to cope with the demands of caring. You can become more and more exhausted, and feelings of tension or irritability can put a strain on relationships. This can make you feel you are losing control over your life and that there is no way of regaining this control.
The first step to dealing with stress is to recognise that it is happening. You may have so little time to yourself that you don’t realise you are suffering at first. When you do start noticing the symptoms of stress (see below), it's important not to struggle on, hoping it will go away.
It can be difficult to address but identifying what is happening is the first step to recovery, and just talking about how you feel can make a huge difference.
The symptoms of stress can be both mental and physical, and can vary from person to person. Here are a few examples:
- Mental symptoms can include anxiety, racing thoughts, anger, depression, lack of appetite, sleeplessness, crying often, tiredness and difficulty concentrating.
- Physical symptoms can include cramps, muscle spasms, chest pains, dizziness, restlessness, nervous twitches and breathlessness.
Over the long term, stress can affect your health – putting you at risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to more serious health conditions. It’s important to seek support straight away.
Talking to other people who are in a similar situation can be a great help when you are feeling stressed. Not everyone finds this easy, but it may be a surprise to find that others feel the same way as you. For example, you could join a local carers' group to share your experiences.
Your local carers' group or local council may also be able to help you get a break from caring so you can allow yourself some breathing space. Even taking just a couple of hours each week to treat yourself to something you enjoy can make a considerable difference.
If you would prefer not to join a group, you can chat online at the Carers UK website forum where you can meet other carers anonymously, share experiences and find support or join one of our Share and Learn experiences, many of which are fun and interactive sessions covering dance, music and art.
If you can, talk to your family and friends as well. Sharing your feelings and problems with those close to you may mean that they realise that you need more help from them.
If you are feeling tearful, angry or have other symptoms of stress, there are a number of steps you can take to help bring down your stress levels. Here are some suggestions:
- Go out of the room – or right outside if you can – for at least five minutes. Take a deep breath and hold it for a count of three, then breathe out. Repeat again, until you feel more relaxed, but not so often that you feel dizzy.
- Relax your muscles. Tense muscles are a physical sign that you are stressed. Training on relaxation techniques is often available locally. Your local healthy living centre or local library may have information about this as well as books or tapes about relaxation.
- Don’t drink or smoke too much. Alcohol and cigarettes have harmful effects on your body, and make you more at risk of the physical effects of stress.
- Caffeine can have similar effects on your body as stress, so watch your coffee intake.
- Try to be active. Physical exercise is a simple way to relieve tension. Even a walk to the shops can help reduce your stress levels or if you are tied to the home, try a 10 minute yoga session.
- Try to pace yourself and tackle one thing at a time. Be realistic about what you expect of yourself. Learn to say “no” to other people, some of the time at least.
Talk to your GP, who will have seen a lot of patients with stress-related problems. Your GP may recommend lifestyle changes, counselling or another talking treatment. A counsellor will listen to you, and help you to find ways of dealing with your stress.
There are also medicines you might be able to take to relieve some of the symptoms of stress. If stress is making you feel depressed, your GP may prescribe antidepressants to help make life feel better.
Different antidepressants suit different people, so if you aren’t happy with the ones you are prescribed, go back to your GP. Ask your GP for information about side effects and let them know if you would prefer to try other treatments first.
Depression is when we feel low or sad and can’t find any pleasure in life. Many of us feel like this sometimes, but depression is when these feelings last longer and are more extreme. It is an illness, just as flu and chickenpox are so don't hesitate to speak to your doctor if you feel you are experiencing it or may be at risk.
One in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year, according to the mental health charity, Mind. Some people experience a temporary low (perhaps linked to bereavement, the illness of a family member, redundancy or divorce). However, sometimes this can turn into depression if this sinking feeling lasts and doesn't go away.
Knowing what the symptoms are, who you should talk to and what treatments are available is important.
You might feel:
- hopeless, irritable, anxious, worried or tearful
- unable to cope with everyday things that you would not have thought twice about in the past
- like you have no appetite
- like you can’t sleep or concentrate
- so low you have suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harming.
Depression can build up gradually, so you may not realise how much it is affecting you.
If you have recognised any of these symptoms in yourself, you may be affected by depression. The NHS has a helpful self-assessment tool you could try.
There are a number of different types of depression so it's important not to generalise or underestimate what you are going through. If you are experiencing a persistence of any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor and talk it through. You may find it helpful to speak to a close friend or relative first. The important thing is not to bottle up your feelings; opening up can be the first step to recovering. If there is no one you feel you can turn to, the Samaritans run a 24-hour helpline where you can talk to someone confidentially.
It can feel very difficult to reach out to others when you feel this way, but taking that step to join a community such as a walking group or online social support group may help to switch your mind to a more positive area of focus. We host Share and Learn sessions which are held on Zoom and cover a range of topics from activities like dance and seated martial arts, to the arts, crafts and wellbeing. You can also search for local groups using our local directory or contact your council or trust for details of what's available in your area.
What might seem like very small changes to make your lifestyle healthier can make a very positive difference to how you feel. Many people take up dancing, running or walking for the physical benefits and are amazed at how it can also transform their mental health.
Eating regular meals with a good variety from the main food groups may seem obvious, but it can be easy to neglect our needs in this area and slip into bad habits, such as comfort eating which can make us feel worse.
Drinking the right fluids is also important for maintaining a good mood. Too much caffeine or alcohol can also really cause your mood to plummet so reducing your intake or cutting them out altogether could also help.
Time is often very limited when you're caring. If this is the case for you, try to take small chunks of time to do therapeutic exercises for you such as 10 minutes of yoga or taking five conscious minutes to observe nature. Some people find practising mindfulness a very helpful tool.
In addition, the Hub of Hope is the UK’s leading mental health support database. It is provided by national mental health charity, Chasing the Stigma, and brings local, national, peer, community, charity, private and NHS mental health support and services together in one place for the first time.
Getting professional support
The effects of depression can be debilitating and it's important to seek professional support if this is the situation for you. Your doctor will look at the best way to treat it, just as they would any physical ailment. For an idea of what types of therapies are available, you may find it useful to look at this section of the NHS website.
If you are feeling particularly anxious, do not hesitate to reach out to the Samaritans anytime, who offer trained advisers support through their helpline around the clock.
If you're going through the menopause
There’s been a lot of talk about the menopause recently on TV and radio. And yet, unfortunately, it is a subject that is not often spoken openly about. When you are already hard pushed with caring tasks, it can feel like an additional load to deal with, both emotionally and physically.
Usually between the ages of 45 and 55 years of age, a woman's oestrogen levels decline and her periods end. This is called the menopause and is a normal part of ageing. The average age is 51 but this can vary.
Most women will experience some symptoms. You may experience any of the following:
Hot flushes, palpitation
Lack of confidence
Pain – diverse, body wide
Reduced cognitive function, confusion
If you're experiencing any of these effects and are finding it hard to cope, it is important to seek help and support, especially if it is affecting your quality of life, as well as those you live with or care for. You can find guidance about when to see a GP and treatments available on the NHS website.
See our section on Looking after your body for more tips and guidance on maintaining good health.
When you feel a sense of grief for the loss of someone whilst they are still here, you may be experiencing 'anticipatory grief'.
They may have a terminal illness or a form of dementia which makes you feel a deep sense of loss for the person you once knew.
There are a range of complex emotions you might experience. The charity Cruse offers some helpful guidance to understand these feelings with suggestions of support on how to cope. See Cruse's guidance.
It can be an incredibly difficult time when someone you are close to dies. Even if expected, it can come as a terrible shock. Everyone’s experience of bereavement is different and understanding how to cope with the loss and range of complex emotions felt is very personal.
We understand that if you have been caring for the person you have lost, the emotions can be all the more intensified. With insights from those who have been there, we have developed some guidance to offer some support and comfort. See ‘Coping with bereavement.’