Caring for

Looking after yourself—emotionally

Caring for someone, even someone you love, can be emotionally draining and there will be many times when maintaining a positive outlook will be difficult. The constant demands of caring and the changes a person’s illness brings to family life will bring about a range of feelings and emotions. 

Emotions might include a sense of satisfaction at being a carer, but you may also feel anger and be overwhelmed by the situation. For more information on coping with your emotions, click here.

Caring for someone can be physically and emotionally exhausting. At times you will need a break from not only your daily tasks, but also from the person your are caring for – perhaps for a few hours, a day, or longer. Regular breaks from caring can help relieve the stress and exhaustion you may feel from time to time. Breaks can also provide benefits for the person being cared for – they can give people new experiences and something to look forward to, and memories to look back on. To find out more about taking a break, click here.

From the carer’s perspective, there are several areas of angst that I am sure every carer feels: carer burnout (there just aren’t enough hours in a day), the monetary crisis that besets everyone and the anticipated grief, while at the same time trying to put on a good, positive, upbeat and uncomplaining attitude. Respite for the carer (and therefore the patient too) is necessary lest one ends up being like a robot mechanically and in total fatigue, but performing the duties demanded by the situation.

As a carer, friends or family members may not know what to say or how to respond to you. It is common for them to feel overwhelmed, self-conscious, or to fear saying the wrong thing. However, this may prevent them from giving you the love and support you need. Click here (PDF 80Kb) for a page you can give to friends or family members containing some tips to help them help you.


Grief does not just occur after a person has died. Finding out that someone will die brings with it a wide range of emotions. In addition to struggling with the meaning of the diagnosis and the many changes this brings, families and carers experience the loss of hopes and dreams for the future. It is common for people to experience grief from the time they receive news about the nature of the illness. 

The adjustment can be extremely difficult and it can take a long time and effort to come to terms with what is happening. Grief is a reaction to loss. It is okay to have a range of emotions. Click here (PDF 96Kb) for a page with some tips on understanding grief.

It is human nature to get frustrated by those things that we cannot possibly make sense of nor control …. And this frustration and anger set in. Why Jacky? Why her life? Why our life? Jacky had done everything right – a truly selfless person, she had always put her family and friends before herself.

There is no right or wrong way to react, and grieving is a natural and healthy response to loss. We all have our own individual ways of grieving. Normal reactions may include:

  • crying and sadness
  • anger, guilt or remorse
  • insomnia or general restlessness
  • poor concentration or inability to make decisions.

Some indications that you might need to seek professional help might include:

  • emotions and feelings too intense or severe to cope with
  • continued fears or anxieties about your wellbeing or thoughts of self-harm
  • intense emotion or obsessional thoughts or behaviour that makes functioning difficult.

There are a number of organisations which can help with loss and grief. To find out more, click here.

Following the death of a loved one, many carers wonder how they will ever cope with the demands of every day living. It may not seem worth carrying on. Partners, relatives and friends may experience or express grief differently and may seem unsympathetic. Some may wonder if they will ever feel positive or happy again. Different people will have different reactions to loss. Click here (PDF 80Kb) for a page with some tips on living through grief.

I cannot imagine how difficult it would have been without the wonderful support from a grief counsellor and a general practitioner and a bereavement group.

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Terminology can be confusing. This website has used the following terminology:

  • terminal illness - an illness which is progressive and has no cure
  • life threatening illness - an illness which is very serious - a person may recover, or the illness may become terminal.

Sometimes, in other forums, the terms "life limiting" or "life shortening" are used instead of "terminal".

This website was developed by PCA with funding from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. PCA is the peak national body representing the interests of people living with a life threatening illness. PCA aims to increase access to services for people living with a life threatening illness and their families and carers. To provide feedback on this website, click here.