Family members are often the primary providers of care to those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. When a family member has COVID-19, all aspects of the logistical and emotional fabric of family life are impacted. Caring for those with the virus is complex; it comes with unique joys and stresses.
The demands of caring for others can be overwhelming. Self-care can seem like a luxury, but there may be wisdom to the over-used adage from airplane safety instructions that tells us to secure our own oxygen mask before helping others. Below are some recommendations that may help you through this challenging time.
Recognize that caregiving is hard work
- Consider your time as something worth managing
- Set aside and protect time to take care of yourself
- Know and remind yourself that it is okay to have commitments other than caregiving
- Remind yourself to take frequent breaks from caretaking. Even a brief pause, like taking five minutes to step outside and get fresh air, can decrease stress and tension
- Ask for help. This may mean help from professional colleagues if you are balancing work responsibilities and the care for a loved one, or help from friends or family with domestic duties
- Consider making temporary changes to your routine that make caregiving easier (examples might include loosening expectations around housework, scheduling regular check-ins with supports, letting yourself sleep in a bit later than usual).
- Delegate caregiving responsibilities to others when you can
- Ask for help and accept offers. Even indirect help—errands, groceries, delivered cooking, yard work—can lighten the load
- Divide up the tasks of cleaning, provisioning, and monitoring the loved one if possible, within the guidelines you are following for their care
- Seek out time that feels interpersonally-connected and rewarding with the person you are caring for
- Companion your loved one—it’s important for you to have quieter, relaxed moments alongside the nitty-gritty of caretaking
- Celebrate small gains and improvements, both in health itself of the family member and also in your practice of caring for them
Take your own safety concerns seriously
- It’s okay to feel afraid of the virus
- Looking out for your own safety will enable you to be a better care provider
- Follow provided safety guidelines as best you can, but remind yourself that no one can be “perfect” in this role
Be open to experiencing and expressing your emotions
- It’s normal to have a range of conflicting feelings – even many feelings at once
- Emotions are often messages about needs or internal experiences. For example...
- anger, guilt, and resentment may indicate grief or a feeling of being overwhelmed
- despair and sadness can be signs of needing more connection with others
- joy and relief may lead to recognizing a “silver lining” like having more time with the loved one
- Practice acceptance of your many emotions-there is no such thing as a “wrong” feeling
- Seek emotional support from friends, neighbors, mental health workers, or religious counselors as needed
- These conversations can feel most helpful by starting them by stating what kind of support you need (i.e. “I just need someone to vent to...” or “I need your advice about what to do...”)
Remember that self-care is not selfish
- Practicing good self care will make caregivers physically healthier and emotionally stronger
- Exercise, healthy eating, sleep, and connection with others matter for overall health and wellbeing
- Physical and mental health are known to nurture a more positive orientation to the future
- Self care helps to prevent “compassion fatigue” (a condition in which emotional and physical exhaustion lead to a diminished ability to provide empathic care to others)
Get the appreciation you need
- Share your feelings with friends and family so they know what you are going through o It will help others know how to help you, if they know your struggles
- Trusted listeners will likely feel honored that you are sharing vulnerabilities
- The simple act of putting feelings into words can be helpful
- Applaud your own efforts and successes
- Imagine how the loved one you are caretaking would respond to your care if they were well
- Focus on the things you are able to control in your immediate surroundings. Allow yourself to enjoy moments where you can feel mastery over something.
Stay connected with others
- Remind yourself often that everyone needs each other during times of stress and crisis
- Connecting with people decreases isolation and supports the human need to be known and seen by others
- It’s easier to be open and forward-thinking when actively engaged with others
Dr. Hurd and Dr. Gottschalk are Staff Psychologists at The Human Relations Service, Inc., a non-profit mental health agency serving the towns of Wellesley, Weston, and Wayland. This work is supported by a grant from the Community Fund for Wellesley COVID-19 Relief Fund.