Caring for your family member is something that may be a part of your life for a long time, continuing to shape who you are even when you are an adult. Here are some areas that may have personal impact for you right now.
Adolescence and young adulthood are key times to figure out who you are. All of your experiences can shape your identity, and being a young carer is no different. You may be very capable and self-motivated because you’ve been taking on a bigger role in your family. You could be super responsible or very rebellious, maybe being the peacekeeper in your relationships or creating conflict because of the stress in your life. Most likely you will feel and act differently depending on the situation and people you are with. At times, being a young carer can help you learn about yourself. You may decide to pursue a career helping people because you know you’re good at it, you’ve developed a strong sense of empathy, and you want to continue to make a difference in people’s lives. Other times, being a young carer might keep you from expanding your horizons. Maybe you spend so much time thinking of others that it’s hard to find time to focus on yourself, your goals and accomplishments, and new experiences. It can also be difficult to feel empathy when you hear about other people’s problems that seem minor in comparison to your situation.
Being a teen or young adult is an emotional time for most people. Pretty much everything in your life is changing, from your brain to your body to the way you see yourself and interact with others. On top of that, being a young carer can sometimes feel like an emotional roller coaster. You may feel devotion, love, hate, guilt, envy, concern, acceptance, jealousy, anger, gratitude, resentment, fear, shame, embarrassment or other emotions at any given time depending on your situation. These feelings can be overwhelming and confusing. Disconnecting and bottling up your feelings might be appealing when it’s hard to deal with them, or you think others won’t understand. You may want to talk about your feelings but aren’t sure who to trust. Remember that emotional ups and downs are natural. There are no “wrong” emotions to feel, it’s how you handle them that matters.
Being a young carer can add extra stress to what is already a really stressful time of life. Family members might lean on you for support, which can feel like a lot of pressure. You may also put pressure on yourself to meet the demands of school, friends, clubs, work, and family responsibilities. It can be tempting to get caught up in trying to find solutions, even when there may not be clear problems that can be solved.Dealing with emotions, like guilt, can stress you out. You might not think you’re doing enough or feel bad when you take time to focus on yourself or have good things in your life that your other family members don’t. Just like with emotions, feeling stressed at times is normal and what matters is how you deal with it.
When you’re caring for someone else it can be easy to ignore your own needs. You might be aware of what your needs are, but sometimes they take a backseat to the well-being of the family member with more urgent needs. Other times, you might not even know what your needs are because you’re focused on so many other things. You may decide to “do you” at times but find it stressful because you feel guilty.When you are juggling a lot of responsibilities it can be hard to find time for hobbies or fun social activities. These activities can be positive outlets for you and maybe you make as much time for them as possible. Or, you might avoid them all together because your family responsibilities can be unpredictable and you feel like you can’t commit on a regular basis, don’t want to bail on others at the last minute, or feel guilty for doing something for yourself. It can sometimes be tempting to choose potentially harmful activities as an escape, like using drugs, drinking, hurting yourself, or taking part in aggressive activities. Positive self-care can provide other options.
Ways to Cope
Everyone copes with stress, emotions, and challenges differently. How do you cope? Are your coping strategies actually helping you deal with the situation? We’ve got some suggestions if you’re not sure where to start or are looking for new ideas.Find at least one safe person outside of your family you can talk with about your life. If you’re not sure who to reach out to, look for someone who you feel comfortable around, is a good listener, has time, and will focus on you. Tell them what you want from them—do you want them to listen, provide advice, challenge, motivate, or mentor you?
- Share your needs with your family if possible. Depending on your family dynamic, this can be really hard. Remember that they won’t know what you think, feel, or need unless you tell them.
- Talk to your family doctor or another health care provider about your own health and well-being.
- Take (or make) time for yourself because you matter too:
– Try to do one thing each day that you enjoy. Taking even 10 – 15 minutes for yourself can be a step in the right direction and help you start to recharge.
– Plan for breaks from your responsibilities, especially when the situation is chronic and long-term, and make sure you have a safe place you can go to relax.
- Channel your energy and emotions into something positive:
– Learn something new or join a group activity or club.
– Express yourself through art, dance, poetry, singing, or drama.
– Find a fun activity you can do with someone in your family.
– Advocate for causes you believe in.
- Stay healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually by scheduling in time for a walk, run, bike ride, sport, or workout.
- Some people find it helpful to focus on the positives and what they do have in their lives:
– Pay attention to the small things that are going right in your life like cooking tasty food or doing something nice that makes a stranger smile.
– Think about all the happy times you’ve had with the person with exceptional needs in your family and remember that deep down inside they are still that person.
– Use humour to help you make the best of a difficult situation.
– Look forward to the future. This can help you get through a tough time and realize it won’t always be this way.
- You may feel that you need to do everything or be everything to everyone. Try not to be too hard on yourself and reach out for help when needed.
- Give yourself permission to laugh, have fun, and be silly sometimes.
- Develop a plan for emergency or crisis situations that might come up. This can help ease your mind.
- Have a plan to avoid coping strategies that feel good in the moment but may hurt you in the long run. Instead of using strategies like hurting yourself, drinking or using drugs, try:
– Creating a list of positive activities and doing something from that list instead, like listening to music, journaling, or watching a funny movie.
– Calling, texting, or video chatting with a caring friend or family member.
– Take positive action on the things you can change to make you feel better.
- Get some help. Sometimes you’ll feel upset about what’s going on. If you feel like this is getting overwhelming, it’s time to talk to your family doctor, school counsellor, another adult you trust, or call a local help line.