Working in a care home or looking after others with physical or mental impairments can be a rewarding career. However, it can also be a stressful job that can take a toll on your health if you forget to pay attention to your own well-being.
Studies show that around 50% of people who work in the care industry have clinically significant symptoms of depression, with approximately one quarter to one half of care workers meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression. Several studies have shown that care workers use prescription and psychotropic drugs more than their peers. A new study by Mayo Clinic researchers has found that stress and burnout are major problems faced by medical and care industry employees and can lead to unhealthy behaviours. This has led to many companies looking to enrol employees into wellness programs, according to the researchers. A significant relationship was found between the stress levels of an employee and four domains of quality of life:
1. poor physical health
2. low mental health
3. poor nutritional habits
4. lower perceived overall health
Matthew Clark, Ph.D., lead author of the study, claims “It is important to teach individuals to monitor their stress levels over time and practice effective, ongoing stress-reduction strategies, such as getting involved in wellness programs. This will, in turn, help health care employees live a happy and healthy life”.
In any job, health can have a big impact on your motivation and performance at work. In reality, care home workers and people who work in the care sector make up a complex cross-section of the working population. It is therefore invaluable that care workers look after their own health whilst caring for other people.
Here are some healthy habits that we recommend care home workers to consider for staying in good health:
1. Follow a diet that will keep you energised throughout the day
Ayela Spiro, senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, explains the potential risks of intense working hours. She says: “Research has suggested that long shift work is associated with greater risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.”
Eating well can help give you the energy to provide the best care you can and prevent you from becoming tired and lethargic during work.
A balanced diet includes:
- at least five portions of fruit or vegetables a day
- starchy foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes and cereals
- some protein, such as meat, fish, eggs and beans
- some dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt
Spiro recommends these dietary tips combined with exercise and better sleep for those working in the public sectors:
- Eat regular light meals or snacks which are less likely to cause drowsiness or affect alertness than a single heavy meal. Large meals consumed a few hours before you sleep should also be avoided.
- Prepare food at home such as salads and pasta, so problems with limited workplace catering and unhealthy snack options can be easily avoided.
- Choose healthy filling foods which are a good source of energy, micronutrients and fibre. It is also vital to choose foods which release glucose relatively slowly into the bloodstream. These choices could include potatoes with skins, such baked potatoes and adding pulses like beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, curries, soups and salads. Hearty vegetable or bean soups can be kept in a thermos flask.
- Bring healthy snacks with you such as fruit, vegetable sticks, rye crackers, oatcakes, unsalted nuts or seeds.
- Drink lots of fluid which is important as dehydration can increase tiredness and decrease performance.
- Cut down on caffeine such as coffee or energy drinks. It is often used as a stimulant, but excessive caffeine can have side effects and should not be consumed for up to four hours before the end of a shift.
2. Exercise regularly
Lifestyle-related diseases are rapidly increasing, with non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular illnesses, cancer and diabetes reaching epidemic proportions worldwide. As well as helping you feel physically fitter and stronger, exercise is good for your mental health as it releases chemicals in your brain which can lift your mood. Exercising during the day can also help you sleep better.
It can be hard to find time to exercise when you’re caring for someone, especially if you feel you can’t leave them alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for, or accept help from friends or relatives who offer to sit with your loved one while you do some exercise. Often, even a 10-minute walk or short jog can help relieve stress.
If you don’t have a network of personal support network, there are organisations that provide respite care. This is someone taking over your caring for a short time to allow you to take a break. Respite care could be for a couple of hours a week or for a longer amount of time.
3. Put aside some time for yourself
Learning to relax and do activities you enjoy by yourself can help you control your emotions and improve your physical wellbeing. Even if you work long hours, waking up half an hour early to have a peaceful breakfast or do some gentle exercise before work provides a healthy start to the day.
4. Connect to external websites for guidance
Organisations such as Carers UK and Carers Trust can put you in touch with local support groups.
External websites you can try:
Countrywide Healthcare is a proud supporter of the Care Workers Charity, which aims to raise awareness of the work that care workers do and ensure their work is recognised. If you have worked within the UK Care Profession (in a registered Domiciliary, Residential Care, or Supported Living service), you may be able apply for a grant through the Care Workers Charity depending on your circumstances.
To support care workers and improve their quality of life, you can join the Supporters Club or fundraise and donate to the charity.
Watch the video below to hear from the many organisations that support the charity.