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NDIS carers: Looking after yourself while looking after others

NDIS Carers – Mental Health Week

When you think about how your work affects your mental health, often it’s easiest to focus on aspects of your job like long shifts, heavy workload or even how seeing a client struggle or suffer might make you feel.

Something you might not always consider, is how your physical health can also have a big influence on your mental health.

As front-line carers, no matter how well you are trained and how careful you are, it is not uncommon to experience strain, fatigue, or even to sustain an injury at work.

And as you carry those physical aches and pains from one day to the next, it can be easy to lose motivation, to experience exhaustion and to find yourself struggling to feel joy.

For this special Mental Health Week article, we were joined by expert sports therapist, Rachael Leek of Sydney Sports Recovery, to learn some key ways you can look after your own body as you deliver care to others.

NDIS carers are a lot like athletes

As NDIS carers, there is every likelihood your job does not involve regularly tackling a 100+ kilo man to the ground.

Nor does it require leaping onto the shoulders of a colleague to pluck something out of the air as it rockets towards you.

And yet, as Rachael explains, carers are a lot like athletes.

“Carers often do a really physical job,” says Rachael, “and it’s not uncommon to have them present with strains and pains similar to those we see in athletes.”

“A big part of an athlete’s training is really proactively looking after their bodies, never letting a niggle turn into an injury. On so many occasions, by the time we finally see carers – by the time they seek help, they have been carrying pain for a long time and it has progressed to a condition much worse than it should be.”

Rachael advises that carers, like athletes, should look after their bodies in three phases, to make sure they don’t experience chronic pain resulting from unnecessary levels of injury.

1. Training and warming up for work

When undertaking any strenuous physical activity – and this includes a day of lifting and supporting patients or clients – training and warming up is key to avoiding injury and reducing any strain.

“Just like a football player or a marathon runner, NDIS carers should prepare their bodies for what they need to do. In sport, this is where training comes in. If you are a carer who, for example, needs to lift people regularly, exercises that improve strength in your core and provide protection for your back and joints can help ensure your body is really ready to perform well, with reduced risk of injury.”

“Similarly, starting the day with a good stretch or some yoga can be incredibly beneficial.”

“We don’t often jump in the car in the height of winter, turn it on without warming it up and expect it to run smoothly. We need to think the same way about our bodies. We need to warm them up, get them working, gradually move from that sluggish early-morning feeling, into a more agile and energetic mode where we can more consciously think about how we are using our bodies.”

Warm up quickly with a few simple moves:

2. Performing as NDIS Carers

As part of an employers’ duty of care, many carers will have received training related to your roles – though over time this training may be forgotten, or heavy workloads and rushed tasks may lead to it being overlooked.

Rachael explains drawing on training to manoeuvre yourself correctly when performing physical tasks can make all the difference, significantly reducing your risk of injury that can result in ongoing, chronic pain.

“There is a reason we are all taught to lift with our knees and not our backs – because our backs are so prone to injury and strain, and treating those conditions can be challenging,” Rachael says.

“The best treatment is always prevention – lifting is a very simple example. Taking note of how you are performing every physical task, from how you bend to pick up something a patient has dropped, to your seat position in the car and how you assist a client who is heavier than yourself, can help reduce injury.”

Closing out the day as an athlete would a training session can also be helpful to improving physical and mental well-being. A quick ‘warm down’ might be just a few simple stretches matched to some deep breathing:

NDIS carers warm down

3. Identifying injury or strain and seeking treatment

A career in care often means being flexible. An NDIS carer may have shift changes every few days or weeks, you may work long and late hours, and in your down time, you may be responsible for normal household and family tasks.

Finding time to look after you is rarely a priority, but really is crucial.

“According to stats, the care sector is made up mainly of women – and that’s something important to keep in mind. Working with non-athlete clients for more than two decades, it has become clear that women often don’t prioritise their own needs high enough, and identify issues fast enough,” Rachael says. “We are so busy looking after other people, we forget to look after ourselves.”

“While many of us view this as not making a fuss, or just not having time; by ignoring the problem, or ‘leaving it until it is really bad’, all we are doing is allowing our bodies and our health to deteriorate.”

“When I finally see these women, when they finally set a time to look after themselves, it is clear their pain is not the only way their injury is effecting them. Often, when the injury has worsened, they are feeling tired, irritable, impatient, and depressed or down. Their injury has surpassed simply being a physical ailment, and has progressed and is impacting their mental health.”

“My big message to women and carers is YOU are important!”

“Your body is important. Your mind and your mental health are important.”

“As a full-time working mother of five kids, I know time is tight, jobs are demanding and other obligations take a front seat, but identify injury or pain early, seek treatment and don’t let it escalate or it may be much more than just a sore back you end up dealing with.”

Rachael is the Director at Sydney Sport Recovery in Malabar. She and her dedicated team provide care and treatment for people who experience injury or strain in their personal lives, while playing sport or in their jobs – book a consultation.

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