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Carers – looking after yourself at Christmas

Sara Challice, who cared for her husband Neil for 13 years, shares some of her tips on how to make things easier over the Christmas period.

The run-up to Christmas, Christmas Day itself and the whole holiday period can be a wonderful time of year. But it can also be stressful and exhausting – even more so, if you’re caring for someone living with a brain tumour.

You already have a lot to deal with, so the added pressure to make it a special time, to visit or host family and friends, to buy presents etc. can leave you feeling drained.

So it’s vitally important to look after yourself. After all, you’ll be better able to care for your loved one if you’re feeling your best. But you also deserve to look after yourself, for you.

Sara Challice, who cared for her husband Neal for 13 years, shares some of her tips on how to make things easier over the Christmas period.

Tips from Sara

  • delegate – not everything has to be perfect or done in a particular way
  • try to stop people-pleasing – do what’s best for you and your loved one
  • slow down
  • if you also have paid carers, make sure you have alternative arrangements in place before they go on holiday
  • if you feel tired, go and have a nap
  • remember – what you’re doing as a carer is an amazing, selfless act, so you deserve some time to yourself.

I find some of my friends and family don’t understand how I’m feeling or make me feel bad if I can’t do certain things with them. What advice do you have about explaining this to people who might not get it?

Not all friends and family will fully understand what you are going through. I found some were great, but others still put on myself and my husband. Try being really honest with them. You may have heard, ‘honesty is the best policy.’ I actually ended up writing down on a piece of paper the points I needed to get across to one family member and then spoke to them on the phone, checking my points as I went. Most of us find conflict very difficult, but this really helped get my message across. The family member was also much more understanding than I thought they would be!

What tips do you have for keeping your spirits up when you’re feeling exhausted and a bit overwhelmed?

Take time out for yourself, even if it’s just 10 minutes. I love comedy and there’s plenty on YouTube at your fingertips. It certainly helps to shift my mood. Otherwise, which close friends lift you up when you are down? Reach out to them but texting or calling and be honest with your feelings. My friends kept me sane whilst I was caring. You could have some ‘mood shifters’ ready for when you are feeling low, so you don’t have to think of what to do.

Christmas can be a really difficult time for those of us with loss. I lost my husband to a brain tumour three years ago but, although I miss him and love him immensely, I’m glad he is not suffering anymore. If you can, trying being really kind to yourself. It is a very difficult time. The more honest we are with loved ones with how we are truly feeling, the better.

Also, carers don’t usually realise what a great and selfless thing they are doing caring for another. Its estimated carers save the economy £132 billion a year – the same price of a second NHS. I also believe my love kept my husband alive for years longer after he was diagnosed with a glioblastoma. Caring for another is a wonderful thing, so be kind to yourself and give yourself that same love you are giving to the cared for.

We find it really hard to leave the house due to mobility difficulties, so can’t get out to carol services or parties. Do you have any ideas for ways to celebrate and make the festive season special at home?

I always used to put on Christmas music CDs for my husband whilst he was helped to get up by paid carers at home. It lifted all our spirits. I had the decorations up and a playlist of all our Christmas favourites that I played at least once a day. Music can reach the soul in so many ways. Although my husband was unable to speak, he would be tapping his toe to it!

How about inviting a few close friends around for a drink and singing Christmas carols? As I would find it difficult to get my husband out and about in his wheelchair, I invited our neighbours over for a Christmas evening and we all really enjoyed our get together.You could also try Skyping other family if it’s difficult to get to others. I also found we would meet others after Christmas when we had more time, so it wasn’t so rushed.

If you need support over the holidays

We offer individual online and telephone support and are here to listen and help you find any information you might need.

You can contact the team by:

  • emailing us at support@thebraintumourcharity.org
  • starting a live chat by clicking the red button in the bottom corner of your screen
  • or, calling our Information and Support Line on 0808 800 0004

Information and Support Line opening hours

Our Information and Support Line is open 9-5 Monday to Friday, but, if you email us outside of these times we will aim to respond to you as soon as possible.

If you are concerned about your health

Please contact your GP immediately, who may direct you to an out-of-hours service. Alternatively if you need to speak to someone urgently, please contact:

  • NHS (England) – 111
  • NHS Direct (Wales) – 0845 46 47 or 111 if available in your area (Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Bridgend, Carmarthenshire or Ystradgynlais in Powys). Calls to 0845 46 47 from landlines are charged at a local rate, but can be significantly more from a mobile phone; calls to 111 are free.
  • NHS 24 (Scotland) – 111
  • If you live in Northern Ireland, please dial 999 or your out-of-hours GP service.
    To find the out-of-hours number for your area, visit nidirect.gov.uk/out-of-hours
  • Or in an emergency, visit A&E or dial 999

If you need emotional support

Please phone one of these FREE helplines:

  • Samaritans (UK wide) Call: 116 123 anytime
  • Childline (UK wide) – for children and young people under 19 – 0800 1111 anytime
  • HopelineUK (UK wide) – for children and young people up to the age of 35 – 0800 068 4141. Mon – Fri 10am-10pm, weekends and bank holidays 2pm-10pm
  • The Silver Line (UK wide) – for older people aged 55 or over – 0800 4 70 80 90 anytime
  • Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) (UK wide) – for men. 0800 58 58 58. 5pm – midnight, every day