Tips on shedding the mental load

Hi all, I’m a regular reader of the forum but don’t post much.
The comments about taking time for yourself really resonated with me though.
What I find the most difficult is to mentally cut off.
I try to do different things, but the thought of being available at a minutes notice ensures a constant “weight “ in my chest alongside a slight feeling of anxiety.
Any tips on shedding the mental load would be welcome……


Hello Jane

I can relate…I feel the same. I have tried to establish some kind of social life and ended up an Admin of a ladies social group. Nice group. But yes, I too always have this feeling of unease if I go to events event though they are local and I could get back easily and quickly. Also the having to change plans at short notice.

Maybe others can share their tips as sadly do not have any. But I would say you MUST get out as and when you can and carve some kind of life independent of caring. I do read a lot but tbh need to be with adults rather than the ‘senile toddler’ and enjoy adult conversation.


Hi both. I think that - to some extent - it depends on who you care for, and on practice!

If you care for someone who is unpredictable and can be unreasonable, then the anxiety of any time away from caring is unlikely to diminish. There’ll always be that sense of a ticking time bomb waiting to blow. I can’t be certain that regular time out will help to ease that feeling much, but it will make it easier to cope with - because you’re still concentrating on your own needs. If you’re in a discussion about a book, the conversation will take you away from at least some of that anxiety, because you’re engaging fully with your feelings about something you’ve read. The anxiety will return once the conversation’s over and it’s time to go home.

It’s a feeling that’s perfectly natural, and it’s better to embrace it and take control than to let it rule you. “Yes, it will be difficult to begin with but I am going to enjoy myself.”

Practice helps a bit, but that’s more helpful when things are more predictable. I don’t go out with the camera if Gill’s at too bad a level on the day, so I don’t end up a couple of miles away without the car and needing to hurry back. But if she’s ok, I take a few hours out - sometimes on the way to a meeting - and the camera gets a good workout. The last one was a couple of weeks ago, and I took 80 photos in about three hours. It can be more, but it’s usually not so many.

And, even if the results are not so good, I will always manage to get at least one or two reasonable shots. If I get more - great. But the time is spent concentrating on enjoying the surroundings and taking photographs of the things that interest me, or that I feel would make a good picture. If I’m happy with the result, great. If others are happy with the result, even better. But the photos are for me first. And it’s about me. Gill wanted me to have a weekly camera day, but that would be too much. I don’t have the space on my hard drives! And I’m really not sure that my knees can take it, to be honest…

You have to find what works for you and to recognise that you deserve a break - carve one out. When you accept that you really do deserve it, and fully enjoy it, some of the anxiety will disappear. It takes a while though.


Hi Helena, thanks for your reply.
It’s awful isn’t it?
I care for my 96 year old MIL.
The demands are never ending. She seems fine, but within a few hours she is “ ill “ or wanting something.
We left her yesterday after taking her shopping around in the morning. A carer going in at midday.
Her cleaner in the afternoon and us again taking her dinner around at 5.30.
We were then popping into her neighbour as they are moving. Within two minutes of us getting there she phoned the neighbour to check we were there.
My son later phoned me to say she had called our house 4 times to see where we were.
We saw her after leaving her neighbour and she was fine.
Today, I was doing some work ( I work very part time for the council) and she has literally just called to say she feels sick. She always sounds on the verge of tears initially, but soon picks up the more she chats.
Her memory has deteriorated but she functions ok ish, and is happy as long as she knows we aren’t going anywhere.
I am deeply unhappy and stressed.

Yes,Charles - A ticking time bomb waiting to blow!
That’s me……


@Jane_22031234567 you have the problem that you’re caring for a very lonely, frightened and elderly lady. She’s scared of being on her own. So she uses every excuse possible to get your attention so the loneliness and fear subside - and probably doesn’t even realise it’s what she’s doing.

I think this needs an honest, open discussion about how she feels about her current situation, and how you all feel about it. And what the best option is for reducing the fear, loneliness and stress you’re all going through. It may be that the time has come for her to not be living alone - and no, I’m not suggesting she moves in with you.


Charles does have a point Jane - and you have a right to a life too and sound exhausted. My circumstances are very different as my husband is 84 and does not realise that I need to get out of the house, or fall into clinical depression - he literally has no empathy and felt when we married, that he only needed ONE person in his life and had little interest in making friends - he is 23 years older.
Old people become very selfish. You do seem to have really really done everything you can to keep her in her own home and maybe now is the time to say ‘enough’? Your mental health matters too.

Thank you again.
It is difficult.
I agree with your point about seeming selfish, as if we don’t respond immediately or I just provide verbal comfort and advice, she will not speak to us for the rest of the day until we “ apologise “ or at least contact her first which she knows we will - as how can we not at her age. This causes great stress to me and arguments between myself and my husband. Overall, not good.
She has not really been much different in the 43 years I have known her, but it has got worse with age.
If pushed to really analyse it, I think it is the loss of control she cannot bear rather than being driven by fear.
Whatever the cause, it doesn’t change anything - I just wish she could be happier, as she has a very good life all things considered.

I regularly read the roll call, and often feel left wanting, in terms of being a carer as many of you live with carees who seem especially difficult, I’m think of you , Helena, in particular.
Everyone seems to cope admirably, and I feel such a miserable c*w, as I find it hard to find that positive mindset.
My own parents died so much younger and really weren’t complainers, and yet someone gifted with such a long life and good people around her, still can’t see the good.

HI Jane,
you definitely aren’t a mean c*w as you put it! Your lives are severely limited by your MIL’s demands. Whether she is lonely and afraid or like she is because she needs to be in control - it is making a hugely negative impact on your lives.

Until you ready to broach the next steps for her; perhaps you and your husband can plan a date night (once a week or a fortnight or whatever) with each other. It could be going out or staying in, no need to tell MIL but you just put it in your diaries and it is sacrosanct. Perhaps your son could be on standby if it would give you peace of mind.

Also, maybe you and your husband could cover for each other one day/evening a week so you each get to take a break knowing the other will be able to deal with any real/invented issues that arise.

I do know that when I totally trust the person looking after S to be able to cope with whatever happens and meet his needs well, I am able to get in the car, sigh with relief and switch off. This used to happen when our friend used to have him to stay sometimes to give me a break. It also happened when his autism club used to be good. Currently when he is at college I worry about him a lot as they are meeting his needs properly and I’m the one dealing with the fall out each evening.

I agree with Charles that being engrossed in something really helps. When I was teaching it took all my attention and was a total break from the worries; now my new job is often less demanding - this isn’t the case. In my old job I also had a mind dump each morning - before we set up the lessons and the children arrived we used to put the world to rights over a quick cup of coffee and that helped too.

Sometimes watching (really watching, not just sat in front of) the TV works for me, as does gardening, a read and soak in the bath, coffee in the garden or a reading a book - can still find my mind drifting if not careful. Mindfulness works sometimes as a way to challenge the thoughts and I like some of the mediations on Insight Timer. Meeting a friend and walking and talking can be good too.

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Thanks again, there are some good suggestions here.
I couldn’t really leave my son “ in charge” as although he is 37, he has Aspergers and Tourette’s and doesn’t cope well with the unexpected or having to sort things out, hence he is still with us.
However, diarying in non- negotiable times is good idea.
I worry about not responding and that is the time something really goes wrong…. But she does know that.
I treasure going to bed with a good book and so try and clear my mind then.
It’s just living with the constant anxiety and low level dread that I find difficult.
It’s such a waste of life……

You are mum’s daughter, not slave, cleaner, or entertainer. She is lucky to have a daughter, lucky to have you living nearby, and very lucky that you really love her enough. I had counselling, on the verge of a breakdown, because of my demanding mum. Although I was newly widowed, newly disabled, using a stick, waiting for 2 knee replacements she would still “save” jobs for me when she had carers 3 times a day, a girl to do her ironing and a gardener!!! My only source of income was selling my late husband’s stock of 30 tons of vintage lorry spares, partly through a club magazine, 20 pages of A4 every 3 months. Come hell or high water, it had to go out on time. Mum would ring me, asking what I was doing, if I said my magazine, she said she wished I didn’t have to do it, and then waffled on for ages, no consideration for me and my train of thought at all. The counsellor told me to put my answerphone on and leave it on, then I could control when I spoke to her. You do not have to say “I can’t BECAUSE…” it’s your life, you control it, not mum. She has no right to judge if whatever you have planned is more important than her.

My solution to “switching off” is to leave the country. For 2 wonderful weeks I go to a hotel in Crete for single travellers only. I wear pretty clothes, and make up. Before going I have a facial, and hair appointments for a perm for my ram rod straight hair, then cut and coloured. I have a new group of friends, we laugh, swim, walk, and eat our way round western Crete. I go to bed early, sleep like a long, eat fresh food - some of it grown in the field next door, so distance travelled measured in feet, not miles. I only keep in touch with eldest son, who lives with me, and he would sort anything urgent out for my brain damaged son who lives 15 miles away. It’s all wonderful, but I feel like crying when I leave. I’ve been battling with Social Services for 44 years, and now one manager has told staff not to talk to me! It doesn’t matter that my son’s carers are on average defrauding the council of £200 a week, easier to shut me up that deal with the problem.

I remember the constant anxiety when my late husband had strokes vascular dementia and other health issues. He became very unpredictable. He was eventually in a nursing home. The 1st time I went with a friend on a day trip I was racked with guilt. When visited the next day I realised he was ok and looked after. I certainly felt better for doing something for me. It’s hard to adjust but very possible


Thank you all for your replies, it’s heartening to know you have taken the time .
BB, the suggestion of the answerphone is SO tempting! But at the back of my mind is always, “ what if….” If I do that and she really was unwell…?
It sounds like much of your life has been taken up with caring, and now to have such a terrible service involved with your son must be awful.
P66, I know it is hard but do need to try and do something.
On really thinking about it, it’s the fear of something going wrong and I’ve ignored it, which so far we have never done. So to start doing that now will be difficult….I think it’s because she plays on that, my stress levels are worse.
Onwards and upwards- we’ll see……

Hi @Jane_22031234567 & everyone
I concur and agree with everyone’s comments.
One of my core self-compassion needs is to have my big headphones on and listen to instrumental classical music, which I’m doing right now.

Whilst several comments have focused on your MIL and the situation, I’d like to focus on how we manage ourselves & our mental health, as carers…this is going to be a LONG one so pls go get some tea or coffee…or cocoa :wink:

If everyone doesn’t mind I’d like to share a few of the milestone finds that have helped me over the last years, I’m in the process of writing a bigger article on this for my own work …but I thought maybe some thoughts could help…

In 2015, I moved company, and country for work and Dad had a traumatic hospitalisation resulting in vascular dementia for several months I was torn and could do nothing right incl stress-eating and comfort drinking.
3 fortuitous and blessed things happened:

  1. Training at work introduced me to Brené Brown’s work. If you go to her website the videos are worth watching (Vultnerability) and her books were huge comfort, to not feel alone and to learn about why we feel the way we do - not just carers but everyone in general
  2. Through those books I was introduced to Dr Kristin Neff & Dr Chris Gerber’s work. feb 7 2013 video was an awakening The Space between Self Esteem & Self Compassion
    Website with free resources:
  3. from their work I started to learn about mindfulness (I know the term has become overused and somewhat cliché, but I’d strongly recommend exploring this for self compassion, and to enable yourself with tools to find calm, and navigate difficult times…I do mindful meditation EVERY night to enable me to get restorative sleep) The original online Futurelearn course that I did ’ Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance’ was learning at your own pace, with comment-discussions by Monash Uni in Australia ( I did it twice because it was so good) It received many awards. Unfortunately, it isn’t available anymore. BUT this is one I’m doing right now to help refresh my thinking 'Selfcare and wellbeing’ It’s narrated for healthcare and social workers but is VERY applicable to us

I have, over the years, researched and added tools to my armamentarium of ‘keep me sane’ things. As I always knew, for me & our situation I would be the live-in 24/7 carer. Everyone has their own unique circumstances and preferences & pls note I’m NOT suggesting or pushing for everyone to be the hands on everyday carer, by saying all this. I just hope that something in what I’m sharing may resonate & offer some help,
Here are a few other touchstones of information:

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi & Flow.

From the website: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness called Flow. In this state they are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. Like the photography which @Charlesh47 or @Chris_22081 does…AND their awesome comedic abilities :wink: or @Ula 's beautiful paintings, or @bowlingbun swimming or @helena_2006 reading & the social group or @Melly1 gardening
Flow for me is when I sit at the piano and play. BUT I find once I stop feelings flood back because the situation is unchanged.
Another Flow, is when I run or fast walk on a treadmill or even better out in fresh air. For some reason Sweaty exercise, through movement or hormone release, re-energises and clears my head.

Finally, one of the most impactful books has been Emotional Agility by Susan David. I saw her video Susan David: The gift and power of emotional courage | TED Talk and then read her book. I read it annually. Not to sound too over-philosophical but the relationship I have with my emotions has changed.
My most favourite quote which sums up everything I TRY to do, (because no one is perfect and we fail and are imperfect, which makes us perfect humans!)
Viktor E Frankl:
Between Stimulus and Response there is a space
In that space is our power to choose our response
In our response lies our growth and our freedom

Those are all the main things I wanted to share…there’s a lot more but I’ve probably overwhelmed folks already!!!

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I find a diary helps. I used to do fishing at a lake not far away from my house. I also tried a number of other things.

@thara_2207 , tell me more

Jane, with the answerphone on you can still listen to the messages and then you decide if and when to call her back. Then you take some control back. Does mum have a lifeline pendant alarm, then she could always call them. If the calls get too much, you can always remind her that if she wants more help ans someone there for her, she could move into a care home, or could pay for a carer every day. That might make her realise that she needs to ration her demands?

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Thanks BB.
Those are good practical solutions, I particularly like the idea of raising the prospect of having more care if she feels she needs us more.
She has a lifeline, and they usually call us if she calls them!!
When all said and done, I really don’t think she can see further then her own needs as she doesn’t really listen has no awareness that it is sometimes inconvenient or just too much.

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