If you are a caregiver you may feel alone, but in reality, you're not. According to AARP, in 2020 there were approximately 53 million adults living in the United States who were caregivers. And the emotional isolation caregivers often feel, especially during this pandemic is important to discuss.
Caregiving presents itself with a unique set of challenges because all too often caregivers are left alone to troubleshoot problems, remedy emotional pain, and generate comfort when the prognosis is poor. In addition, caregivers receive little to no positive feedback about the duties they're performing, which makes it hard to feel appreciated or know the work they're doing is high quality. And since caregiving often requires one to react to a crisis, they are often left to feel anxious or scared.
During the pandemic, with the extra layer of COVID-related fear and with the limitations as to the type of support one can receive, the intensity of providing care has increased. For example, patients may not be able to get some services because of COVID-19. Therefore, a greater burden is on the caregiver to provide for things like an extra meal, a haircut, or spiritual guidance. Caregivers are also in unchartered territory when it comes to easing angst related to coronavirus. The patient is often worried a visit from a loved one could leave them or their caregiver ill.
And the type of social support one can receive is limited due to stay-at-home orders and general fears about getting COVID-19. Caregivers are now tasked with figuring out, if possible, safe ways to interact. Now more than ever, the need to help caregivers feel empowered is critical for their overall well-being and for the well-being of the person receiving the care.
Here are seven tips to help caregivers feel empowered (in no particular order).
Remind yourself of what you can control. Becoming clear about what you can and can't control will give you a sense of empowerment. It may be the route you take to the doctor's office, where you park, what you wear or when you eat. While these may seem like small things, remembering that you can make good choices will give you a sense of success. If needed, you can text yourself the list as a gentle reminder.
Identify what makes you feel better. Create a short list of items that make you feel better. Items on the list can include a song, a photograph, a prayer/ mantra or a passage in a book. These are things that you can go to for a few seconds during the day. Even though it might only be for a few moments, it can help you pause. You're giving yourself a time out. Creating these moments where you feel brighter can help your overall well- being.
Notice how you feel after sharing your story. Since most conversations are happening in a virtual world, this means you're texting or using your screen more than usual. This can be both beneficial and stressful. Repeating and providing updates can be painful at an emotional level. And while you may not notice it at the time, you may feel depleted later. So, if you find these types of conversations to be draining, find a few select people you can "go to" and share with others as needed.
Take very short breaks as often as possible. While it may not be feasible to leave the place where you are providing care, taking short breaks to focus on something else can help you gain a sense of control. You may even want to use your phone to set a timer as a reminder to pause.
Focus on your breath. When I was caring for my (now late) husband, I remember one moment shortly after I found out his cancer diagnosis was terminal where I ran into the hospital bathroom stall and realized the only physical thing (at that moment) I could control was my breath. As simple as it sounds, knowing I could control my breath was powerful. By slowing down my breath, it helped to calm my central nervous system, which benefited me both physically and emotionally.
Choose a favorite song to listen to, sing, or hum. Music impacts mood, and when we feel better it can help to lower the intensity level of an anxious moment. The words you chose to repeat or listen to can bring about a smile and elevate your mood.
Seek help. Trying to do everything on your own can lead to frustration and create more stress. Help can come in various forms, from online professional guidance or a telephone call to a local pharmacy to a text from a friend. Since so many services are online, the ability to get a number of opinions has increased. For example, if you need help with groceries, don't be afraid to ask if someone knows of a reliable grocery delivery service. Or if you need professional mental health services, online counseling services are now available.
Reminding yourself that it is okay to live in the needs of the day is also important. By giving yourself grace when things don't go as planned, you will be able to give yourself and your loved one the best possible chance for experiencing comfort.
Meekhof, Kristin & Windell, James (2015). A Widow's Guide to Healing. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.