Carers & family members
The caring role & managing stress
Caring for a family member with a
brain injury is one of the most difficult challenges that can
confront a family especially for those providing direct care.
Carers usually find life begins to revolve around the
person with a brain injury. The workload often leads to
stress and frustration, along with dramatic
changes in lifestyle and roles as they access community services,
provide health care and look after the family as well.
When the caring role is a long-term one, it is very important to
manage stress as it can lead to health problems, depression,
anxiety and reduce your capacity to be an effective
You will probably use coping strategies that you have used for
difficult times in the past. This is useful, but often the caring
role is so difficult it makes sense to experiment with new ways of
dealing with stressful situations.
Tips from other carers
Researchers have asked people how they have coped with a brain
injury occurring within the family (Willer et al 1991). While every
family member is different, here are some strategies that other
family members have found helpful:
- Look after yourself
- Find support groups either face-to-face or online
- Maintain a sense of humour
- Be assertive about your needs
- Try to see things realistically
- Be careful not to blame everything on the injury
- Redefine roles and responsibilities for yourself and the
Learn to relax
Taking a few moments to relax can help you be more ready for the
things you need to do. Learning to relax is not easy - even when
you rest at the end of a long day, you are probably thinking about
what you need to do tomorrow or how to solve a problem. Here are
some techniques to train your body and mind to relax. Find the ones
that work best for you.
Focused breathing: Your breathing becomes quick
and shallow when you are stressed, instead of breathing deeply from
your diaphragm (the muscle between the chest and abdomen). Taking
full breaths from your diaphragm puts your body in a relaxed state.
Try this exercise several times a day:
- Lie down on your back in a comfortable place
- Put your hands just below your belly button
- Close your eyes and imagine a balloon inside your abdomen
- Inhale fully (but not too deep), and imagine the balloon
filling with air
- Exhale slowly, and imagine the balloon collapsing.
Muscle tensing & relaxing: This helps
you to understand the difference between how your muscles feel when
tense and relaxed.
- Lie down on your back in a comfortable place and close your
- Curl and tense the toes of one of your feet as you breathe
- Relax your toes as you breathe out and note the change in
- Repeat this with the toes of your other foot
- Repeat this exercise with other body parts.
Use a focus word or phrase: This clears your
mind of negative thoughts and stress. Choose a focus word or phrase
- it can be something with a positive meaning like "peace" or just
a word that is easy to remember such as "one". Take full deep
breaths from your diaphragm. Say the focus word to yourself each
time you breathe out.
Visual imagery: Lie down and imagine
yourself in a place where you feel calm and relaxed. It can be a
real place you've visited, or somewhere you have imagined. For
example, imagine yourself on a beach lying in the cool sand - feel
the sun on your face, the sand against your skin, and listen to the
Developing a positive approach
We all respond differently to difficult situations - some people
take in their stride while others will barely be able to cope. Much
of this comes down to how we choose to see the situation, as
irrational responses usually lead to stress.
For example, the person with a brain injury yells at us. A
rational response would be "emotional outbursts are common after a
brain injury so this could be due to fatigue, anxiety or feeling
unable to cope".
An irrational response is "how rude, and after all I've done as
a carer, I feel so unappreciated and don't deserve to be put down
Irrational responses and will lead to unpleasant emotions
that prevent us from responding in a healthy way. Most
of our irrational responses will stem from one of these
- I must do well and win the approval of others
- Others should treat me the way I want them to
- People should be punished if they don't act the way I want them
- I should get what I want quickly, easily, and without
- The world is a horrible place and bad things keep happening to
Remember, learning new ways to think and cope takes time. Be
kind to yourself, allow yourself the chance to make mistakes. Focus
on your successes no matter how small. Coping effectively is like
any other major challenge. It requires tenacity, endurance and
commitment for change.