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How to cope with draining carer interactions

There are lots of reasons why, as carers, we can feel exhausted. One reason that perhaps gets overlooked is "all the talking"... Talking to GPs, talking to social workers, talking to other family members, the bank, the medical team, the therapists.

Illustration of a nervous woman on the phone

On their own, day-to-day interactions with professionals in our carer circle might not feel like a big deal, but they can quickly add up over time. Even seemingly small or routine exchanges can carry a heavy weight, impacting us emotionally and mentally. These aren't ordinary conversations, and can often be emotionally charged.


Whether or not we consider ourselves ‘people persons,’ this aspect of caring has a knack for sapping our energy in unique ways. It's the kind of emotionally loaded work that sneaks up on us, nudging us closer to burnout before we realise.


And it gets even tougher if these interactions aren’t our forte, or if we’re battling additional obstacles like language barriers, our own disabilities, prejudices, or the unspoken pressure from family to manage everything solo, without seeking outside support.


If we’re grappling with this unspoken side of caring, rest assured - we are not alone. Countless others are right here with us. We’ve gathered some tips and advice to help us protect our energy and carve out some boundaries when carer duties start to encroach on our mental space.




Eight signs that carer interactions are affecting us


  1. Regularly finding ourselves drained of energy in social interactions and needing to retreat afterwards, even if they were brief or positive.

  2. Finding ourselves more easily annoyed or agitated in social situations that wouldn't normally bother us.

  3. Feeling more stressed or anxious before, during, or after these interactions.

  4. Feeling like we’re always on high alert, ready for a fight to advocate for the person we care for, or having to be careful about what we ‘do’ or ‘do not’ say.

  5. Physical symptoms like headaches, insomnia, fatigue or muscle tension. 

  6. Finding it hard to empathise with others and their feelings.

  7. Losing the motivation to keep on top of our own wellbeing, hygiene and self-care.

  8. Feeling too socially drained to stay in touch with our own friends and family, or withdrawing altogether.



Why do care-related conversations zap our energy?

Illustration of an introvert

Conversations related to our caring roles can be emotionally draining for several key reasons: 


1. They’re emotionally distressing

Conversations about care often involve big emotions. These sensitive topics leave a lingering sense of stress, worry and sadness, and we’re not always given enough space to process them properly.


We might be pushing for a medication or health service, or appealing an education decision. We could be discussing end of life care or asking for more information about a worsening health condition.


Either way, fighting for what's needed, making tough decisions, and facing the unpleasant realities of a situation - it all takes a lot out of us, and it can make it that much harder to say what we need to say. 


"The stress of the situation caused me to lose my ability to speak coherently."

2. Our ideas and opinions clash

Talking about care strategies is rarely straight-forward. We might have conflicting opinions on the best approach. Professionals tend to rely on their training and education, but these ideas might clash with our cultural values or personal beliefs.


Other family members may also be expressing different opinions. And, of course, our own emotional involvement can shape how we see and feel about the situation.


To make matters more complicated, we may have spent months fighting to get this all-important care support and naturally feel anxiety about losing it again. So, it can be a juggle to keep the relationship positive, while stressing our thoughts and opinions politely.


3. Our physical space has been taken over 

Most of us need a safe, quiet space we can retreat to. A place where we can step back, recharge, and regain our sense of balance and wellbeing. For lots of us, this safe space is our home.


But for those of us who live with the person we care for, our home environment can revolve around them, and their caring needs. Then throw in care professionals regularly coming in and out of our space, it can quickly feel invasive and disruptive.


Although we know they’re doing important work, their continuous presence can be a bit of a burden. It might limit our sense of freedom and our ability to relax and just ‘be’


4. It brings home the pressure of the work we’re doing 

When we’re in the thick of our day-to-day caring duties, it’s easy to forget our larger concerns. Conversations with care professionals can serve as reminders that many of us bear the ultimate responsibility for someone else's wellbeing. It's an intense, high-pressure commitment.


These discussions can be mentally draining and force us to think of the future, rather than getting through the here and now. 


5. We feel like there are zero boundaries 

Carers often talk about feeling overwhelmed by constant interaction - paid carers entering and leaving, frequent GP visits, day centres and charity meets, and for some of us, loud noises or constant contact from the person we're caring for. 


This becomes especially challenging for introverts who thrive in quieter, less socially demanding settings. We may find ourselves with more social interactions than we’re comfortable with, leaving us feeling utterly drained by the end of the day. 


6. We’re not naturally assertive

Sometimes caring requires tough, difficult conversations. This can be especially hard for those of us who find dealing with direct communication in phone calls or appointments mentally exhausting.


There can be a fear of conflicts or feeling unprepared to stand up for what we need, which can lead to anxiety or stress. Feeling pushed to respond right away piles on extra pressure, especially for those of us who like to take our time to think. 


If we are struggling to be assertive on behalf of the one we care for, in a system that can feel like it’s against us, our carer’s guide to advocacy and five ways to get past a no might help.


We may also be feeling pressured from the one we care for, and find it hard to speak up or have our voice heard over their strong beliefs and opinions. 


7. We have imposter syndrome

Sometimes, we carry personal beliefs that make us feel inadequate, especially when dealing with medical or care professionals. These feelings could be linked to our education or how we were raised, shaping our beliefs about what we can achieve.


“I'm suffering from lanyard envy. Everywhere I go - every appointment, every paid visitor to the house, even carers events - I’m outnumbered by lanyard wearers.”

Self-development author Mark Mason believes that limiting beliefs create a fixed mindset, making us believe that our abilities are set in stone and can’t be changed. As such, we might avoid carer situations where we think we’ll fail or hold back from pursuing conversations with medical professionals that could really help us in the long run.


8. We’re already burnt out

Statistics show that unpaid carers suffer from higher levels of depression, anxiety and burnout. While interactions with the person we care for can be exhausting enough, dealing with others can add to this drain.


If we’re caring alongside grappling with our own mental health challenges, like anxiety or depression, we might have limited emotional reserves to engage deeply in these discussions. Plus, they can be stressful in their own right, adding to fuel to the fire of our own personal challenges. 


Unfortunately, it’s a double-edged sword, as feeling this way makes everything seem tougher, and it might lead to missing appointments or important emails. Read the 14 warning signs of carer burnout which covers what to look out for, and ways to help, such as finding connection through friends and other carers like us.

You can also find help and support in our guide to therapy to get us back on our feet.


9. There are cultural barriers to play

Cultural biases and stereotypes can affect the quality of support we receive. Sadly, some of us may face discrimination or judgment based on our cultural differences which affects our ability to access resources or receive empathy from others.


If English isn't our first language, it can lead to misunderstandings about what care we need. Sometimes, there might also be a stigma attached to seeking help from paid carers if our culture places heavy significance on the role of family.


Families may discourage us from reaching out for additional support, believing it's a ‘family matter’ or fearing judgement from the community. Plus, finding services that understand our culture and needs can be tough. We explore this further in cultural expectations to caring.


10. We have our own disability

Disabilities can amplify these challenges. For example, a carer who is neurodivergent, such as someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), might face challenges in social communication or sensory sensitivities.


Reading about other carers in similar citations can help. For example, Sarah’s shares her story on how ADHD impacts the way she cares for her daughter. And Gylnn shared how his autism diagnosis has helped him in his caring role.


Those of us with hearing loss might not have our communication needs met effectively, making engagements frustrating and exhausting. And if we’re dealing with fibromyalgia, we might experience chronic pain, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties. These symptoms can make it even more mentally exhausting to maintain interactions, particularly during flare-ups when energy and focus are affected.


So how can we feel better about carer interactions?

We can't avoid carer interactions, but we can adopt strategies and lifestyle changes to protect our energy in these situations.


1. Have a space that’s just for us

Our environment can have a powerful effect on our mood. Try designating a physical area in the home as our ‘safe space’ - somewhere we feel comfortable and secure. If we have the space, this might be a spare bedroom, our kitchen or even just a corner of a room we can personalise to feel like a calming sanctuary.


Make this an area that we can retreat to when carer interactions are getting too much. If we can’t find it in our home, we could choose a local coffee shop, the library, or even a bench in a local green space. Having time to ourselves can also make a big difference. Our carers' guide to respite shares some tips on how to achieve this, be it for a week, a day, or even an hour. 


2. Use visualisation tools

Visualisation can serve as a helpful tool to recharge and reset energy levels, offering a mental escape from draining interactions. It works on the principle that the mind and body are interconnected, and the body believes what the mind is telling it. So by vividly imagining certain experiences, we can positively influence our thoughts, emotions and even how our body feels.


If you’re feeling sceptical, think about a time you had a bad dream - was it real? No, it was a dream. But, did you “feel” like it was real at the time? Almost definitely. That’s the power of our body believing what our mind is telling us.


Try this…


Picture a peaceful place in your mind. It could be a serene beach, a quiet forest, or any setting where you feel relaxed and secure. Envision this place using all your senses. Feel the warmth of the sun or the cool breeze, hear the sounds of nature or peaceful music, smell the scents around you, and visualise the colours and textures.


As you visualise, focus on relaxing your body. Release tension in your muscles and let go of any stress or fatigue. It takes practice, but it can really help.


“When I need to relax I sometimes visualise myself in a deckchair on the shore of Lake Garda. It’s an ancient memory, but I can still remember the gentle lapping waves, the hazy warmth and just how relaxed I felt. It feels great to spend a few moments there”

3. Set healthy boundaries

Where it’s possible to do so, we should set boundaries with carer interactions, such as moving appointments to different days or asking for space from the person we care for when we’re ‘peopled out’.


There are ways we can express our boundaries assertively yet respectfully. Try using "I" statements to convey needs without blaming others. For example, "Today has been busy and I need some quiet time to recharge" rather than "You're overwhelming me."


Just as we set boundaries, acknowledge and respect the boundaries of others involved in caring. This way, we can have a mutual understanding based on respect.


4. Step away for a moment 

Sometimes, we might just need a break between interactions. Whether it's a short walk, a few moments of solitude, or engaging in a relaxing activity, taking short breaks can help us to recharge. We explore this idea further in our guide to finding moments of micro-respite throughout the day.

Illustration of headphones

5. Escape with audio

If we’re frequently in noisy environments like hospitals, day centres or even our busy home, we can escape the chaos by tuning into a podcast or audiobook.


Guided meditations can be really helpful for calming feelings of anger or frustration too. Studies have found that a regular practise can increase awareness, clarity, compassion, and a sense of calm.


The popular mindfulness apps Calm and Headspace has a vast library of guided mindfulness programmes designed to help - from managing stress and anxiety, to letting go of frustration.


7. Utilise ChatGPT

Free artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT can be amazing for taking some of the work out of having emotionally draining conversations, especially if English isn’t our first language. They assist in finding the right words to explain ideas and summarise information in a simple and clear way. 


This type of technology can be helpful if we’re not sure how to word a difficult text, or it can help us to structure our thoughts before going into a tricky conversation. Or, if we’re drained after a long day, it can save us time and energy by writing out emails - simply feed it notes and it’ll generate the text.


If we’re new to ChatGPT, exploring a beginner’s guide can be super helpful in understanding how to use this platform effectively.


“I used ChatGPT to help me write a letter to my Mum, who is an alcoholic. It was actually really good. She had just been admitted to hospital for the billionth time and I was at my wits end. I edited the letter a little, but it took a lot of the emotional strain out of the activity for me.”

8. Move conversations to email

Transitioning conversations online can be a simple way to protect our energy. We can then (to a point), choose the best time for us to reply. It’s also a great way to keep a log of who said what, responsibilities and time-scales.


Why not ask healthcare providers, therapists, or other caregivers if we can move communication to email or text? This way, we can ensure clear and concise communication, especially if we don’t feel totally confident delegating tasks or requesting information.


“I feel like my written communication skills are much better than my verbal ones. When it comes to getting information and support for my sister, I’m better able to communicate her needs over an email.”

9. Harness the power of positive self-talk

When was the last time we said something nice to ourselves? Studies show that how we speak to ourselves affects our mental wellbeing and ability to perform tasks. Being overly critical, saying we're not good enough, or don't deserve things, can increase the chances of feeling depressed, anxious, or even developing PTSD.


One way to remedy this? Start the day with an affirmation. These are short sentences, said aloud, that can help us to reframe our thinking. We like the Happy Place app, which has lots of one-minute guided affirmations to build positivity, resilience and loving kindness towards ourselves.


10. Lean on our wider caring circle

If we’ve been shouldering the draining care interactions on our own, consider reaching out to other people. Do we have family or friends who are really good at communicating? If we can, ask them to help. It'll make things easier on us and spread the work around.


11. Dress for success 

We know it’s not always easy or realistic to “dress for success” as carers. But research says that our clothing choices can have a major influence on how we feel and act, especially in professional settings like meetings. The simple act of wearing a smart shirt or a blazer can signal to our brain that it's time to step up and perform at a higher level. It's like a mental cue that boosts our confidence and makes us feel more authoritative.


Illustration of Google translate

12. Bring a friend or family member to help translate

If possible, bring a family member or friend who speaks our language to appointments. Also, remember that many healthcare facilities offer interpreter services, so it's worth asking for an interpreter who speaks our language to ensure clear communication during appointments. 


13. Make use of the notes app

Using the notes app on smartphones, or any digital note-taking tool, can be incredibly helpful for keeping detailed notes and information handy for appointments. We can jot down the questions, symptoms, or concerns we want to discuss during the appointment.


This ensures we don't forget those crucial details! We can also use these to plan what we want to get out of an appointment or home visit, to have something on us to refer to to help us remember our key points, and feel we are going in prepared. 


14. Ask for accommodations

If we have a disability or health issue, we should speak to our care team about how they can best support us. 


This could include arranging tasks around our health needs by offering flexible hours or schedules that accommodate our disability. Or, it could be distributing more tasks among the care team to lighten our load. They can also make sure that their communication methods suit our needs.


15. Bunching tasks and organisation

‘Bunching tasks’ is a productivity strategy that involves grouping similar or related tasks together and completing them in a single dedicated time block. By tackling similar tasks together, we’re able to streamline our workflow and complete them more efficiently than if we were to spread them out throughout the day or week.


If we find them draining, it can also feel great to know all our phone calls or emails have been done for the week, rather than have those hanging over us. Alternatively just finding ways to keep on top of this side of our carer admin can help to stop it from becoming as overwhelming. 


“Something that I found helps is having the good old paper calendar and I have coloured small circle stickers that I stick on each day. Each colour represents an appointment, a to-do action, deadline, or important day.”

16. Reward ourselves

Rewards are a powerful way to reinforce positive habits and motivate ourselves to tackle tasks that might otherwise feel less enjoyable. Habit researcher James Clear has a popular concept of ‘habit stacking’ with rewards, which can be incredibly effective in building and maintaining productive habits (more on that here). 


To do it, try associating a specific reward with a particular task or habit. For example, enjoy a cup of coffee while tackling emails or indulge in a relaxing bath after completing a set of phone calls.



What if we’re still struggling?

Sometimes we just feel stuck. We might be putting off a tough phone call, or avoiding opening our emails. Our community of carers shared ten tips that have helped them to get unstuck and start moving forwards. 


Seeking help from a therapist or counsellor can also be really helpful if we’re having a hard time dealing with the emotional impact of day-to-day caring.


We have an in-depth guide on talking therapy that can help us to find and access this kind of support, whether we want to talk to someone face-to-face or online.


A final word


Noticing if we find carer conversations draining is a powerful first step. From here, we can choose to take small steps to manage the quantity of draining interactions and make choices to help us protect our energy.


Do you have any other tips on ways to stop carer interactions from feeling quite so draining? If so, pop over to our Mobilise Hub and share them with other carers in the community.

1 Comment


dawn.wilson-bloch
Dec 18, 2023

Thanks for this- so timely and so true for me!

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