5 Practical Ways to Look After Yourself When Supporting Someone With Mental Illness  

Supporting someone can be incredibly hard. Try and incorporate these tips into your life, and remember, you can't support others if you are drowning yourself.

Time to Read: 3 Minutes

The most important part of supporting someone is to care for yourself. Burnout and compassion fatigue are real and serious challenges that carers and supports can face when they do not prioritise their own care and wellness. Let’s dive into how you can care for yourself when caring for others

1. Boundaries

When supporting someone with mental illness, it is important to have boundaries and to allow yourself to enforce them. It can be easy to feel guilty over enforcing boundaries, however even if the person does not appreciate it at the time, you are modelling healthy behaviours for them that they will be able to use in the future to protect their own mental wellness.

Boundaries will differ for everyone however some good starting ones are

  • “My phone goes on silent at 8 pm, if you need some support after that I won’t be able to answer until the morning. Here are some after-hours helplines you can call if you need”
  • Not accepting violent behaviour or abuse. Compassion to a point, and that point is when it is harmful to you and your own wellbeing
  • Not being the only support. This is an often-forgotten boundary that is (I think) the most important. You are not a professional, and for one person to be someone’s sole support is unrealistic and dangerous. Work with the person to loop in other people of their choosing (including professionals)
  • Self-care

2. Fill your own cup

Take time for yourself and allow yourself joy and happiness. The better you are mentally, the better you are able to support others. It can be easy to get bogged down in negativity when supporting others, so ensure you are looking after yourself. This may look like partaking in hobbies, spending quality time with loved ones or even not answering a phone call if you don’t have the space – which leads to our next tip…

3. Anchor yourself before having a conversation about mental health

If you know you want to check in with someone about their mental health, check in with yourself first. This concept is called ‘Anchoring’ and we run through it more in our Resilience First Aid course. The premise is to check in with yourself before a hard conversation and see how you are feeling and anchor yourself to that number. This can help us shake any residual emotions after the conversation that are not ours to carry.

Ask yourself before the conversation – “how am I feeling on a scale from 1-10” and anchor yourself to that number. Reflect on why you feel that way and how it feels in your body. Have you had a great morning, the sun is shining, and you feel light and happy? Great, remember that.

When we finish big conversations, there can be a lot of left-over heavy feelings that we carry with us that aren’t necessarily yours to carry. Sensitive and empathic people will feel this especially. If your number has decreased from before you started the conversation, take note of that. Take note of what you’re feeling in your body after the conversation. Are you feeling more lethargic and heavier in the chest? Maybe you’re feeling sad and glum. Reflect back on your anchored number and why you felt that way beforehand, try your best to realise what you have taken on and that they are not your problems to carry through the day.

The more we can practice anchoring, the easier it gets to do it throughout conversations

4. Informal Support

Utilise your own support networks, friends, family and loved ones. Be careful of sharing private information about the person you’re supporting and ensure to respect their privacy, especially if you have mutual friends. If you don’t have a great support network, we can help you build one! Connection with others is an amazing way to decrease our stress and let our body decompress. Also falling under the banner of informal support is our app. This app is neuroscience-based, allowing you to have more capacity for yourself and others, have better emotional regulation and also how to look after yourself when caring for others. Find out more.

5. Formal Support

Supporting someone can be incredibly hard. Often it is easier to look at the situation and see the solution from the outside. This can be frustrating for the person supporting and increases the risk of compassion fatigue. Getting your own professional support such as a psychologist can be extremely helpful in dealing with the stress of being a support. The closer this person is to you, the more important this formal support becomes.

Try and incorporate these tips into your life, and remember, you can’t support others if you are drowning yourself.

About the author

Angela Harrisonis the founder of Mindspace Training and has been working in the mental health industry for over 7 years. She is a resiliency specialist and is passionate about changing the way society approaches mental health. Her mission is to move from reaction to prevention; giving people back the power to create wellness for themselves.

If you are in Australia and need to reach out for support, please seek help from one of the following:

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