It is normal to feel stressed or overwhelmed during uncertain times, even more so when you’re not just responsible for your own health. It’s normal to harbor emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger and sadness. You may also feel helpless, discouraged and, occasionally, out of control. Physical responses may include headache, muscle tension, fatigue and sleeplessness.
Taking care of yourself as much as you care for others is important. This is so you are equipped to help your aging loved one through this time. November is National Caregiver Month, but it’s also really no secret that an entire year should be dedicated to caregivers for all that they have been through during this time.
According to Dr. Regina Koepp, Board Certified Clinical Psychologist, “Family caregivers during COVID are more stressed and overwhelmed than ever before. Approximately 61% of caregivers are employed while caregiving. Of these caregivers, 60% work 40 or more hours a week and another 15% work 30-39 hours per week. Caregiving resources during COVID have been limited. Many resources that caregivers rely on like senior centers and adult day programs have been closed for several months.”
With changes in routines and social interaction now severely limited, the senior isn’t the only one more likely to decline in mental and physical health, but their caregiver as well. A senior with dementia may have more episodes of agitation and other behavioral challenges during such an uncertain time, further making the caregivers every day that much more stressful. This means that caregivers have more caregiving tasks, more stress and worry, fewer community resources needed to care for their loved one, and don’t have the breaks from caregiving that are essential to maintaining health and wellness.
At Wickshire, we want to be a resource to caregivers everywhere and aid in weathering their storm of caregiving during the pandemic. We’ve identified 5 ways you, as a caregiver, can take some time for self-care. Maybe for the first time since you’ve become the caregiver.
- Check in with your physical health.
It’s so easy when cooking or somehow obtaining a meal for the one being cared for that you forget, as the caregiver, to provide yourself with fuel and nutrients your body needs. It’s also easy to stay indoors too long, lose sleep or become more susceptible to being exposed to COVID-19.
What gets in the way of you taking care of yourself? You may think you just don’t have the time, that your loved one needs all your time, that you were raised to first put others before yourself. Shifting how you perceive this can in turn shift how well you care for your loved one – in a good way.
Begin by making time to fuel your body by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water, then aim to get at least seven hours of sleep each night, followed by remembering to take deep, even breaths often throughout the day and get outside.
Taking the time to do these things for yourself will allow you to lower your stress, leaving your loved one to a better, healthier you.
- Check in with your mental health.
Just like it’s easy to skip a meal or a few extra hours of sleep, it’s often very easy for caregivers to put aside their mental health for the sake of their loved one.
You can begin by setting and maintaining a routine at home. Where everything outside of your control may seem a little too overwhelming, an established routine at home could be the best thing not just for your loved one, but for you as well. Focus on things you can control and use technology to maintain social connections with your other loved ones. Consider a regular check-in schedule with other members of your family or your friends to give you something to look forward to. Focus your thoughts on the present and things to be grateful for today. Listen to your favorite music and dance with or for your loved one, read books out loud and to yourself while you limit your exposure or take a break from news and social media when you find that it makes you anxious.
- Set goals for you. And you alone.
Too often, when caring for a loved one, caregivers can allow the lives of their loved ones to completely consume all their aspirations, their plans and their goals. Consider making an ‘If I Had Time List’ and make it just about you. Break up your long-term goals into short-term goals and don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t stick to the schedule every day. To start, you should make a list of everything you have been wanting to do if only you had the time. Whether you have wanted to start a garden, finish a certain book, or learn more about personal finance, feel free to add it to your list. While you might not get to all of it, this is an important first step in beginning to realize what you want to accomplish.
It’s likely your daily tasks have been at least slightly altered even before the pandemic, right about the time you became a caregiver. Whether you are cleaning helping with their groceries, making their own meals, or helping them with their everyday activities, make sure you include these daily tasks in your plan to accomplish your goals. Building these things into your schedule will help you realize how much time you actually have to work towards your goals while still feeling accomplished for what you’re already doing for the one you love.
- Do yourself a favor and set yourself up for success.
Remember that setting boundaries is not a privilege, it’s a requirement. The spread of COVID-19 has changed pretty much every part of our day-to-day lives, including the dynamics in the relationships we have. We’re all dealing with the differences of this year in our own ways, but it’s not always easy, especially when everyone is going through so much and you feel like you have double the burden. The pandemic has become exhausting—mentally, physically and spiritually. One way to ease the exhaustion is to set firm boundaries about your availability as a caregiver. Your needs and wants have probably shifted a lot this year, more so when you became a caregiver, and boundaries are a practical way to communicate them to the people in your life.
Boundaries you can take during this time is saying how you feel, even in uncomfortable situations, clearly recognizing and stating your needs while keeping in mind your loved ones, reminding yourself that others are responsible for their own feelings, you can say no without feeling the guilt, teaching other people how you want and really need to be treated during this time of giving so much of yourself and taking time to recharge on your own.
In the middle of a global pandemic, our boundaries will probably change and that’s a good thing. Boundaries aren’t meant to be static, you should change them as often as you need to in order to feel protected. Depending on what you’re going through, what your loved one is enduring, your boundaries might be totally different one year to the next.
- Ask for help. No, really. Do it.
From logistical issues, like finding someone to help do your grocery shopping, to emotional ones, such as coping with anxiety and depression while overworked, COVID-19 has brought to the forefront an experience that can be strangely uncomfortable for many caregivers, as they’re not used to being the ones to do so: asking for help. With many of the formal caregiving supports currently unavailable, now more than ever it’s essential to build an informal care team. Asking for help is really hard for caregivers to do but remind yourself that you’re still worth it. You may feel uneasy at first because it requires surrendering control to someone else, you may fear being perceived as needy, but remember: your health is just as important as everyone else’s. You may be surprised to hear once you ask your friend, family member, neighbor, church friend or just one health aide for help they respond with, “I thought you’d never ask.”
Do you need more caregiving information, education and support?
CaregiverAction.org has a free caregiver hotline and lots of resources related to caregiving during COVID-19. Call 855-227-3640 or chat with a representative on their website.
The Family Caregiver Alliance offers resources, support programs for caregivers, and a hotline during business hours (Pacific Standard Time) at 800-445-8106.
Alzheimer’s Association. If you’re caring for someone with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 helpline at 800.272.3900 or you can chat with a representative online at https://www.alz.org/.
Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving offers many caregiver support programs. Check them out at https://www.rosalynncarter.org/