Looking after yourself

If you are a young carer, it’s important that you look after yourself as well. Here are some things you can do to look after yourself.

It can be difficult to eat if you are worried or upset, or you may eat more as a way of coping. But eating and eating healthily is important as your body needs food for energy.

Getting enough sleep is important too, but this can be hard if you are worried. It might help to read a book, have a bath, or listen to relaxing music before you go to sleep. You could also try writing a diary or to-do list for the next day.

Even if it’s hard, make time for yourself. Try to do things you enjoy, like playing sport, spending time with friends, watching TV or films, drawing or listening to music.

If you are thinking about drinking alcohol or taking drugs to help you cope, talk to someone about how you are feeling. If you think that you are drinking too much alcohol, or are already taking drugs, try to get help as soon as possible.

Eating - food and your feelings

Yes, we know it’s obvious, but you must remember to eat. And eat healthily. It’s normal to not feel like eating when you feel worried. And it’s also normal to eat a lot as a way of coping.

Being a young carer can be very hard, both physically and mentally. You may be having a bad day, or be too busy to bother about food. But your body needs food for energy. And you need energy to look after someone who is living with cancer.

If you feel like you are having any problems with eating or your diet, you should talk about it with someone you trust.

If the person you look after or other family members have had to stop working, you may be worried about paying the bills, including buying food. We have more information about financial support and help with money worries.


Sleeping

When you are looking after someone with cancer, you might find you struggle to get enough sleep. This could be for lots of reasons, but the main one for many young carers is worry.

It can be hard to switch your brain off at night. Your head hits the pillow and your mind goes into overdrive. You may be thinking about the person who is ill or about what will happen in the future. And all that worrying keeps you awake.

You may also find that there are people coming in and out of your home at different times, and that can be a distraction if you are trying to get to sleep. Or it could be that the person you are caring for is having a bad night, which then keeps you awake.

Here are some things you can do to try to get a good night’s sleep:

  • Read a book or magazine before you go to sleep. This will focus your mind on something other than cancer.
  • Take a break from your phone, laptop or TV for half an hour before bedtime to help you to wind down and relax.
  • Have a bath. If you like, you could add something like lavender oil or a bath soak that can help you to relax.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Write a diary, or a to-do list for the next day. If you put all your thoughts down on paper, they won’t be quite so busy in your head.

If lack of sleep is affecting your physical or mental health, speak to a teacher or nurse at school, or your GP, who may be able to help.

It is important to look after your emotional wellbeing. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, there are lots of tools and resources available to help you to relax and clear your mind. Speak to your school, GP or young carers’ service for more information.

Writing down any thoughts and questions you have might help too.


Making time for you

It’s easy to feel guilty or selfish about going out and having fun. You may worry that if you go out with your friends, something might happen to the person you look after. You might feel guilty for having a good time when someone so close to you is ill.

It is important that you make time for yourself to do the things that you like doing. These might be things like:

  • playing sport or doing other types of exercise
  • spending time with friends
  • watching your favourite TV programme or film
  • painting or drawing
  • playing an instrument or singing
  • listening to music
  • walking the dog.

If you are worried or feel guilty about going out, talk to the person you are looking after. Let them know how you feel. It’s likely that they will want you to go and have fun. They will want to see you happy, because they love you.

Ben seated faces the camera

Watch: all about Ben's experiences

Watch: all about Ben's experiences


Drinks and drugs

Sometimes people use drugs or alcohol to block out their feelings when they are stressed or upset.

If you are thinking about drinking alcohol or taking drugs, talk to someone about how you are feeling. This could be anyone you trust, such as a friend or family member, GP, social worker or young carer worker. Talking to someone might help with how you are feeling. They may be able to suggest different practical ways of coping, and help you get the right information and advice about drugs and alcohol and how to stay safe.

If you think that you are drinking too much alcohol, or if you are taking drugs to help you cope with what is happening in your life, you should try to get help as soon as possible. Try talking to friends and family. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, there are lots of helplines and groups you could go to for support. We have contact details for organisations that can help.

You may want to go to your GP, who can refer you for counselling and support.

Perhaps there are other things you could do to help you relax. For example, you could try going swimming, chatting to a friend or going for a walk. Change your routine so that you are not thinking about alcohol or drugs at certain points of the day. And if your friends are encouraging you to drink lots or take drugs, it could be time to rethink who you hang out with.


Self-harm

Self-harm is when you deliberately hurt yourself. Anyone can self-harm, but it is often linked to difficult experiences such as stress or being bullied.

If you are looking after someone with cancer, you may be at risk of self-harming. If you have had thoughts about self-harming, or if you have started to hurt yourself, it is really important that you get help. Tell a family member or friend. Or we have a list of organisations that can help. You should also make an appointment with your GP or talk to a young carer worker if you are worried about how you feel, or whether you may have depression.

Back to If you are a young person looking after someone with cancer

Counselling

Counselling is support if you would like to talk to someone about your feelings.

Depression

You, or the person you look after, might feel very low at times.

Coping with death

Hearing that the person you are looking after is going to die can be very difficult, but there are people who can support you.