Almost one in five adults provide unpaid care to an adult with health and functional needs, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. There’s also an uptick in the number of people caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
If you’re a caregiver for an older loved one, then we don’t need to tell you how the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown an added stressor into your life. The added responsibility of keeping an older loved one safe and distanced while navigating a new life routine can cause even seasoned caregivers to feel frustrated and stressed out.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to know how to manage your caregiver stress. Here are a few tips on how to cope with your caregiver stress during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic:
Know the symptoms of caregiver stress
You may get so wrapped up in caring for someone else that you don’t realize how stressed you truly are. Take some time to ask yourself if you are experiencing these signs of caregiver stress:
- You feel more tired than usual.
- You’re overwhelmed and worried a lot.
- You don’t get enough sleep, or you get too much sleep.
- There’s a change in your weight. You may gain weight or lose weight.
- You’re no longer interested in hobbies or other activities you usually enjoy.
- You have physical symptoms such as headaches and other bodily pains.
These symptoms of caregiver stress can put you at higher risk for depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, left untreated, that could lead to long-term and chronic health problems like heart disease and diabetes.
Make sleep a priority
With or without the Covid-19 pandemic, sleep is a crucial time for our bodies to repair and recover. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Do your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time each night, remove electronic devices from your room before you go to sleep, and keep your bedroom cool and comfortable.
Don’t ignore your own health
In addition to sleep, there are some other basic health tenets you should follow to stay healthy and strong, including the following:
- Eat a well-balanced diet that includes vegetables and fruit, lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains.
- Stay hydrated with water.
- Get enough physical activity. Federal guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity that gets your heart pumping each week. You can break that down to 30 minutes, five times a week. It’s also OK to break that down into smaller chunks if needed—say, a 10-minute brisk walk after each meal.
By maintaining your own health, you can take better care of others.
Do things that you find relaxing
Every day, try to do something that you enjoy, even if it’s brief. Refueling yourself emotionally is a critical part of coping with caregiver stress, according to the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. A few ideas that may help you to tune out the world and find some relaxation, relief, and calm:
- Laugh at some funny videos.
- Make time for mindfulness, be it prayer, meditation, or yoga.
- Read for pleasure.
- Listen to your favorite music.
Take a break from the news and social media
It’s easy to get into a cycle of checking news or social media feeds constantly during the pandemic as the news changes so quickly. However, that’s not always the best choice mentally. Set aside time every day, every week, or as often as you feel as necessary to unplug from the blitz of news. It’ll still be there when you log on again.
Focus on what you can control
The world may feel like it’s spiraling out of control, and that means it’s the right time to focus instead on what you CAN control. For instance, you can control the way you approach your daily routine, your attitude, or your ability to help others. You also can take an active role in controlling your response to the pandemic. This means wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, getting information from trusted sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and keeping a social distance of at least six feet from others. Apply these same safety measures when caring for your older loved one.
Learn how to accept help
It’s notoriously hard for caregivers to ask for help. However, friends and family often want to genuinely help out. So, if a friend or family member offers to do something that will truly help you, take them up on their offer! This could mean they’ll run an errand, pick up groceries, get a prescription for your older loved one, or do some cooking. It’s also OK to ask them for help. Those little gestures from others can go a long way in helping you maintain your emotional and physical strength.
Connect with others
We all need emotional support from others, even during a pandemic. Even if you can’t connect with others in person right now, there are plenty of ways to stay in touch with friends, family, and other caregivers so you can speak out about your stress or just share stories about life. Set up regular phone calls or Zoom calls with trusted family members or friends. Or, find a support group (online or in person) geared toward caregivers. One added bonus of a support group: You may establish new friendships. Here is a list of some national support groups for caregivers.
See a doctor if you need more help
What do you do if the loved one you care needs help? You probably call their doctor, right? The same applies to you. If you find yourself overwhelmed by caregiver stress, or you’re experiencing recent changes to your health, set an appointment with your doctor. If needed, your doctor can provide more ways to help you manage caregiver stress or refer you to a therapist if you need more mental or emotional support.