Self-Care For Caregivers During Covid-19

There is virtually nothing else on anyone’s  mind at the moment except Coronavirus. Most of us are feeling very overwhelmed and for many in the nonprofit world there is the additional pressure of needing to be ‘strong’ for others during this time. For those who care for others there is always the need to also prioritize self-care too and this is especially needed right now. Here are some tips to help you take care of the most important person in your life – YOU.

Take Care of Your Own Physical Health

This is probably one of the most important things any caregiver can do. If you are not feeling well physically then it is virtually impossible to care for others. In a crisis situation it is easy to get out of healthy habits and find a million loopholes to let you make decisions that you know will not make you feel good. Yes, I am with you – sometimes all I want to do is eat Nachos, drink Margaritas and watch trashy tv. While a treat is a good thing, doing this everyday will definitely not make you feel well. Instead,  try to balance out the occasional treats with behaviors that will overall make you feel strong and healthy, and therefore better able to take on the daily challenges of being a caregiver: 

  • Drink plenty of water – In a stressful situation it is easy to get into the unhealthy habit of just drinking coffee to wake up in the morning and alcohol to fall asleep. Try to avoid this and instead focus on making sure you are hydrated. Typically the recommendation is 64ozs of water a day or half your body-weight in ounces of water each day. Staying hydrated will help your whole body function and prevent negative side effects of dehydration such as headaches. 
  • Prioritize Sleep – Again, this is easier said than done. When I am feeling anxious it is a challenge for me to get restful sleep. It is beneficial to  have some kind of routine before bed that promotes rest. This includes avoiding watching the news or going on social media right before bed. Instead try to decompress by reading a book or taking a bath. If you are someone who wakes during the night then try deep breathing and other relaxation techniques or exercises to fall back to sleep. 
  • Eat Balanced Meals – Sure –  many of us just bought 25 boxes of spaghetti, but that doesn’t mean this is all we should be eating right now. Try to stock up on fruits and vegetables (especially ones that will keep longer), so that you ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need. When you are working hard it is easy to miss meals or just grab something that is not healthy because it is convenient. If you can, prepare meals as much as possible ahead of time, this way you wont get stuck without healthy food options when you actually get a chance to eat something. It is also good to stock up on healthy snacks that you can just quickly grab.
  • Exercise – Although gyms are closed it is still important to try to exercise in some way for at least 30 minutes a day. Go for a walk or a run, take a bike ride or try an online fitness class. Exercising will give you energy and it is also a great stress release, so it may be helpful to incorporate exercise in short bursts throughout the day.

Develop Some Kind of Routine

  • When everything is chaotic it is easy to feel like we are just reacting to the crisis of the moment and we have no control at all. Set up some kind of schedule and routine to your day as much as possible. This will help you feel like there is some structure and you also maintain some level of control.  This is helpful even if this involves really small things like what time you are eating or just making a list of a couple of things you want to get done by the end of the day.
  • Having a morning routine can be especially helpful as it sets the tone for the day. Set up your morning with a routine that will start the day off in a controlled way that is most likely to set a more positive tone. Many of us look at our email and social media accounts within 30 seconds of waking up – try to hold off on this practice.  Don’t wake up and immediately go right back into the crisis of it all. Take some time for yourself whether it’s going for a walk, meditating, exercising, reading, listening to a podcast or even just really enjoying that first cup of coffee. 
  • Try to schedule blocks of time to yourself throughout the day if you can. This way you will be able to take a break from caring for others and instead care for yourself.

Avoid Information Overload

  • Obviously we all need to be informed about what is going on, but it is easy to quickly get into information overload. Think about how much information you really need about the situation. It is not healthy to spend hours watching the news or reading social media posts as it often compounds anxiety. 
  • When caring for others also be mindful about what is healthy for those you are working with. For example, if the tv is on in the background it may not affect you as you are busy doing other things, but it could have a strong impact on those you are caring for. It may even be helpful to put a time limit on watching the news – for example, watching 20 minutes of the news and then changing the channel to something else. 

Connect with Others

  • We are all (hopefully) practicing Social Distancing right now, but this is about being physically distant, it doesn’t mean you can’t be social. We are all social beings and feeling connected with others is the number predictor of reported happiness. It is therefore important to still connect and not become isolated or lonely during this challenging time. 
  • For both yourself and those you are caring for it will be important to find ways to continue to connect socially with others. A phone call works well and a videochat is even better. Use technology to stay in touch through applications such as Facetime or Skype. Set up messaging groups with friends and family to  just increase the conversation you are having with them. You don’t have to wait for ‘news’ to message them – even if you are just checking in and letting people know how your day is going, it still adds to the connections. 
  • Investigate other ideas to connect socially, for example you could  set up ‘events’ that you do separately, but connect about through calls and videos. For example, everyone watching a certain movie at the same time or doing some kind of challenge (exercise, baking, etc) and sharing pictures. Set up virtual book clubs or play online games together. 
  • Prioritize effective and established manners of communication with others. As someone who lives thousands of miles from my family I can definitely state that despite being physically distant you can absolutely still be connected with people. 
  • Also, remember many people are not caregivers right now and would love to help others out in any way they can. It is ok to ask for help if you need it. Whether it’s needing time to vent to someone or asking someone to just take care of your online Whole Foods order – if you ask, you may be surprised by how many people want to help. You don’t need to be able to do everything for everyone.

Finally, realize it’s absolutely normal to feel totally overwhelmed and anxious right now. Anxiety is a normal feeling – it’s what helps us respond to threats and actually get anything done. If you are feeling anxious and stressed, understand it is a perfectly normal reaction to the situation we are all in currently. Honestly, if you have absolutely no concern over Coronavirus then you’re probably in full blown denial (which is a scarier state than anxiety). It is unhelpful to beat yourself up for being stressed about this – this is an incredibly stressful situation. What is important is to recognize when that anxiety gets too much and starts causing significant issues. Know your own anxiety level and know when it is getting overwhelming.

 Develop a list of effective coping strategies for those difficult times. This should include activities that really calm you down. Ideas might include going for a walk, deep breathing, aromatherapy, taking a drive, kickboxing, listening to a podcast, taking a bath, calling the friend that you know will listen, meditation – whatever works best for you. When you find yourself showing signs of really heightened anxiety go to your list and find one you can do. This can also be a really helpful exercise to do with those you care for, so when you see signs they are getting extremely anxious you can help them cope.

This is a difficult and challenging situation. Taking steps to prioritize self-care will be so important for both you and those you care for. Thank-you for all you are doing, it is making all the difference.

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