Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the mental health and well-being of people all over the world, and those who were coping with significant life stressors prior to the pandemic have felt its impact two-fold.
Primary caregivers, including those caring for children, a partner with a chronic or terminal illness, a senior, or those caring for a friend or family member requiring assistance with daily activities, have faced significant challenges with the onset of the pandemic. Already-limited resources available to caregivers became inaccessible, and many caregivers were forced to significantly reduce their support system.
Two years later, with a lot of us experiencing an increasing sense of normalcy, many caregivers continue to face significant stress, even with hope on the horizon.
A Look at Pandemic Parenting
It is no secret that parents have faced significant stress during the pandemic. You may have taken on the roles of teacher, entertainer, coach, and even chef, while simultaneously juggling your own career responsibilities. For some, this juggling took place right in the middle of the living room, and the line between work and home blurred quickly. For others, significant time and energy went into finding childcare, or negotiating time away from work with employers.
Since the onset of the pandemic, many parents have been forced to push pause on their careers in order to manage this growing number of responsibilities. Two years in, some parents are experiencing relief in having the opportunity to take off a few of the hats they have worn throughout the pandemic. But with ever-changing circumstances, many parents may find themselves feeling a mix of emotions as we look toward the future.
A Look at Pandemic Caregiving
Increased caregiver burden during the pandemic has silently swept our society, and as we re-emerge into a new sense of normalcy, many caregivers may find themselves feeling burned out.
As the primary caregiver to someone living with chronic or terminal illness, or to a senior, you may feel as though you have no time to prioritize your needs. This was emphasized during the pandemic, when many caregivers had to forgo support from other family members, hired caregivers, day programs, or other in-home supports in order to reduce COVID-19 exposure risks. Many family caregivers felt isolated and unable to care for themselves.
As we move toward a new sense or normalcy, it is important to work on prioritizing self-care as a caregiver and acknowledge the resilience that all caregivers have demonstrated over the last two years.
Self-Care Tips for Caregivers in Any Role
- Take time for yourself and your own needs. If you’ve ever been on a plane, you’ve heard the flight attendants instruct you to put on your oxygen mask first, before assisting those around you. This same practice applies to the role you hold as caregiver.
Caring for yourself is the most important thing that you can do for you, and also for the person you are caring for. This may look like attending preventative medicine appointments, exercising, eating well, and/or accessing emotional support. It is incredibly important to ask yourself what might be getting in the way: is it that you don’t have anyone to supervise your loved one so that you can grocery shop for healthy ingredients? Maybe you don’t have time for the hour-long workout class you’ve been wanting to try. Once you identify your barriers, you can problem-solve to find a solution.
For example, if you don’t have time for the hour-long workout class, you can try to fit in a 15-minute walk outside instead. Try to focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t.
- Ask for and accept help. Asking for and accepting help is a sign of great strength, not weakness. Oftentimes, caregivers will automatically decline an offer to help simply because it’s too challenging to think of ways that others can support us when we are so embedded within our role as primary caregiver. Our to-do lists may feel too daunting to impose on others.
To feel better prepared to accept help, try keeping a written list of what others can help with. Maybe your friend really can pick up groceries for you while she shops for her own, or your family member who asks to spend time with the person you are caring for can supervise them while you attend your own appointments. More often than not, offers to help from friends and family are truly genuine—they just need you to tell them how they can support you.
- Manage expectations. Managing expectations was incredibly important during the height of the pandemic, and will continue to be important as we learn to navigate our new normal. Many of us had difficulty taking into account the emotional impact of living through a pandemic and put a significant amount of pressure on ourselves to maintain our pre-pandemic productivity levels.
Those caring for children while working from home quickly learned that it was unrealistic to expect that you could maintain your full-time work performance while also homeschooling. Goal-setting can be a helpful tool to help manage expectations while accomplishing your tasks. It is important to set goals that feel achievable, and realistic, given the external circumstances you are navigating (like a pandemic!).
- Keep lines of communication open. Though it may not always feel like it, you often have access to a support team consisting of professionals, family, and friends, and it’s important to keep the lines of communication open with all members.
This could mean reaching out to professionals when you first notice a change with your loved one, or when you start to feel overwhelmed, rather than waiting for an emergency to occur. It might also mean accepting a call from a family member, even when you don’t necessarily have any updates to share with them. It is important for people to know that they can reach out to you and offer support, and it is equally important for you to communicate with your support system so they can better understand what you are experiencing.
- Find support. Support groups, individual therapy, and online caregiving/parenting forums have proven to be incredibly important throughout the pandemic, since many of us find solace in learning that we are not alone in our experiences. Individual therapy is a great support resource, and for many caregivers, can be considered just as important as going to your doctor for a physical exam or taking your daily medications.
Support groups offer social connection, shared tips and tricks, and are often one of the only places that primary caregivers feel comfortable sharing their most personal experiences. When the pandemic forced many of our in-person support groups to shut down, online groups and forums quickly grew into an easily accessible form of support for caregivers at home. A quick online search often provides us with a wealth of information and resources.
With the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves striving toward normalcy with much still unknown. While we will likely continue to uncover the full impact of the pandemic on the overall well-being of caregivers, we can all acknowledge the resilience that caregivers have demonstrated over the last two years and find ways to care for ourselves as well.
If you want to learn more about how to care for yourself while caring for others, sign up for our Two Chairs Talks event Self-Care for Caregivers, Wednesday March 16.