Caregiver Burnout & COVID-19
Caregiver burnout is difficult to avoid under “normal circumstances”. Currently, we are facing a global pandemic that has caregivers under immense pressure and stress. In many places, depending on the local restrictions, caregivers have lost access to support systems and activities that brought them joy. Since vulnerable people are high-risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19, caregivers are facing fear and worry about getting their loved one sick. This is a troubling time for everyone, but caregivers are bearing an enormous weight that should not be forgotten. If you know someone providing care to a family member or friend, please check in on them and do whatever is possible to help support their well-being.
Signs of Caregiver Burnout
- Sudden changes to eating or sleeping patterns
- Feeling overwhelming fatigue, brain fog, or inability to concentrate
- Experiencing withdrawal or a lack of pleasure from relationships and social activities
- Quick to get flustered, angry, and irritated
- Developing a strong sense of hopelessness or helplessness
Tips for Relieving Caregiver Stress During COVID-19
Lean on a support group
A simple Google or Facebook search will help you find support groups both locally and online. If you’re caring for someone with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association offers a locator for support groups in your area.
Hearing other caregivers talk about their journeys will make you feel less alone and isolated in yours. These groups can be a great place to turn to for advice and empathy when it feels like none of your other friends or family members knows what you are experiencing. Many caregivers experience strong feelings of guilt when they get burnt out or need to complain about their struggles. Caregiver support groups are a great place to vent frustrations or process through feelings of guilt because there is no judgement, only understanding. Furthermore, when you are able to provide hope or encouragement to others in a difficult situation, it can bring about a sense of meaning and purpose to the challenges you’ve faced as a caregiver.
Keeping all your loved one’s friends and extended family in the loop can be tiring and time-consuming. You might be uncomfortable posting sensitive health information over social media, but still want a way to keep everyone updated without having to personalize each message. Take a look at websites like CaringBridge or MyLife Line as a solution. These sites allow you to share important health journey updates to a chosen group of people, control privacy and coordinate help for things like meals, appointments, etc.
Find home care services
We all need respite. The number one key to preventing or recovering from burnout is to take care of yourself and prioritize your needs as much as you can. Where possible, seek out the help of home care professionals. Some agencies have home care software that notifies you via your mobile device of when your care provider arrives, departs, what was done, personal messages, etc. This can give you extra peace of mind as you practice whatever self-care looks like for you.
Set daily intentions or mantras
Have a set of index cards that you write intentions or mantras on. These words must be powerful to you. It helps if the mantras you repeat directly confront and counteract negative narratives that run through your head. Some examples might be:
“I can do hard things”
“The only control I have is over the changes I choose to make”
“I will honor my limitations”
“Today I will notice all the beauty around me”
Keep a gratitude journal
There are benefits to writing these down and having something to reflect back on. However, you can just take a few minutes to be mindful of the things you’re grateful for each day if you don’t care to keep a journal. It especially helps if you can do this outside, preferably in nature. Take deep breaths and focus on the reasons life is good. This positive reinforcement can have life-changing effects on your mindset, mood, and stress levels.
Minimize decision making
Caregivers often experience decision-making fatigue. One way to combat this is to establish routines that limit decision-making and enable routine predictability as much as possible. When a health crisis occurs, it can be immensely stressful to have to make end-of-life decisions and care planning choices as a caregiver. As much as possible, communicate with your loved to establish their wishes ahead of time. Then, when a crisis does happen the burden will be somewhat lifted by having a plan in place.
Walking in nature, gardening, or even watching animals from a bench – all these activities have been shown to reduce stress and improve well-being. There have even been studies showing that viewing nature scenes hastens recovery from surgery. Trees and plants, water, fresh air, and sunshine have restorative powers, helping relieve pent up stress from caregiving.
Schedule alone time
New parents know this well: if you don’t schedule date nights, they won’t happen. When we are responsible for the wellbeing of others, we put their needs first. This is not a bad thing, but as the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. If you want to have a full cup to pour from, you must prioritize time for yourself. Treat it like an important work meeting or a doctor appointment that you’d never miss. Schedule in an hour for yourself every morning before your day gets started or treat yourself to a nightly luxurious wind-down routine. Whatever works for your schedule, just make sure to pencil it in your calendar and stick to it!