Monday 21st January is a ‘special’ day. It’s been labelled Blue Monday because, statistically speaking, more people report low mood than at any other time, and therefore it’s considered to be the most depressing day of the year. There are thought to be many reasons for this: Christmas is behind us; we’ve overspent; pay day is a long way away; the evenings are long; the weather isn’t great; and we’ve probably broken any New Year’s resolutions by this point too! No wonder lots of people feel low.
How about you? Is your mood low? We know that as a family carer of a person with dementia, the emotional and physical challenges you are facing are considerable. Moreover, research tells us that the particular stressors carers are facing are:
- Stress, worry and fear
- Social Isolation
- Financial worries
- Physical health problems
- Low self-esteem
- Frustration and anger
With this in mind, it is no surprise that 90% of carers of people with dementia experience feelings of stress or anxiety several times a week.
If you feel low in mood please know that you are not alone. Feeling isolated has such a detrimental effect on how we feel. But with 700,000 family carers of people with dementia in the UK alone, you are part of an important community that is growing in strength and numbers. If you feel low, it’s really important that you spend time with people who are empathic and have a positive impact on you. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it can take a great deal of courage to ‘take the mask off’ and show someone else that you feel vulnerable. Another important thing to understand is that a thought is not a fact. We all know what it’s like to feel negative and hopeless. If this is you right now, you might be thinking that there’s no point in trying anything differently as nothing can change. This is a sign that you have slipped into a pessimistic frame of mind and it’s not helpful. As a carer, there are probably things that are out of your control and that you can’t change. However, one thing that you can change is how you think and how you respond to situations. That is still within your control and can give you hope that you won’t always feel as low as you do right now.
Dementia Carers Count is a charity that recognises that family carers of people living with dementia are often isolated and need far greater support. We run expert-led residential courses to help family carers of people with dementia to feel more resilient and knowledgeable in their caring roles. On these courses, we help carers to improve their mood using a variety of approaches including Mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and self-compassion.
When carers come on our courses they often tell us that they feel guilty that they are even considering their own needs. This supports recent research which suggested that 60% of carers feel guilty if they seek support for themselves, as they feel this is placing their own needs before those of the person with dementia. If this feeling of guilt resonates with you I want to challenge you with the Oxygen Mask metaphor. If you go on a flight, the cabin crew always tell you that if the oxygen masks drop down it’s important that you put the mask over your own face, before you help the person next to you. This is because you need to be fit and well, to be able to support others. The same is true for you in your caring role; self-care is paramount in being a carer.
I know that there may be lots of reasons to feel that life is particularly tough right now. Martin Luther King said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars”. I love that quote as I believe that even when we are going through the most painful of times, there is still beauty all around us. The challenge is to try to find it. It might be in a song lyric, or a flower by the side of the road, or even in a smile from a stranger. But it is there. When you start to notice beauty again, your mental palette can be cleansed, and you can start to have hope again.
Dr Gemima Fitzgerald
Clinical Psychology Lead