Christina Irving of the Family Caregiver Alliance answers questions about how caregivers can support their own mental health while still providing dedicated care, especially in such difficult times.
Christina Irving, LCSW
Director of Client Services, Family Caregiver Alliance
What advice do you have for caregivers who are trying to balance their own stress while also staying calm and reassuring for the people they care for?
It’s important for caregivers to be patient with themselves right now when they’re trying to juggle caregiving, other responsibilities like work and childcare, and coping with the pandemic. Caregiving is stressful in the best of times but there’s a lot of extra worry and anxiety right now. Finding small things each day that help you relax can make a difference in your mood, which will help the person you’re caring for. Consider meditation, journaling, music, exercise, or talking with friends to help manage your own stress.
What strategies do you have for building resilience during difficult times?
The American Psychological Association suggests five steps to building resilience: fostering wellness, building connections, finding purpose, embracing healthy thoughts, and seeking help. A good place for caregivers to start is paying more attention to their physical and mental health. Getting good sleep isn’t always easy, but sleep plays a big role in our well-being.
Talking with friends or family and connecting with other caregivers through online support groups can provide an outlet for stress and be a good source of support. It’s easy to focus on the things that are difficult or aren’t going well, but trying to notice what went well that day and the moments of happiness helps us from only dwelling on the negative. And even if you think you’re doing okay, it’s a good idea to find out about services that may be available to help you and the person you’re caring for.
What type of support do caregivers need?
Respite, or getting breaks from caregiving, is a necessary resource but may not be as available right now. Given the social distancing our communities are practicing to reduce risk of exposure to the virus, some caregivers may not be comfortable having someone come into their home. Having friends, family, or friendly volunteers call to “visit” with the person your caring for may give you some down time right now.
Emotional support for the caregiver may be also available through telehealth — video or phone calls with mental health professionals or counselors. Think about what people can do to help you and your family and don’t be afraid to ask for that help. It may be calls to the person you’re caring for, tutoring help for your kids, or someone you can talk to. Ask your local Area Agency on Aging about what caregiver support programs are available or if there is financial help if you’ve lost income due to the pandemic.
How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way that families and caregivers respond to crises?
Some caregivers may feel that the current situation isn’t having a dramatic impact on their lives because they already were limited in being able to leave the house because of caregiving and were often worried about the health of the person they’re caring for. The ongoing uncertainty, fear, and isolation associated with the pandemic may feel very familiar to a lot of caregivers. So, while it may not seem like a new scenario, it may be exacerbating the usual caregiving stress and building up resilience is even more important.