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Caring for Yourself During the COVID-19 Pandemic When You're a Caregiver

Advice to keep you safe and help prevent burnout

It’s always important to stay physically and emotionally healthy if you're the caregiver for a spouse or other loved one — but that can feel tough during anxious times like sheltering in place because of coronavirus.

Research has shown that caregiving can have an impact on both your physical and mental health. If you don't care for yourself, you're heading for potential negative consequences for your own health and well-being. And when you're not healthy, you can't help the other people in your life. Taking care of yourself will enable you to be the kind of caregiver you want and need to be.

1. Protect your own health.

Self-care starts with following CDC guidelines to protect yourself from the virus that causes COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer when soap isn’t available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or face when hands are unwashed.
  • If possible, stay in your home — especially if you’re sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect household surfaces frequently.

2.  Find new ways to get support.

If you provide in-home care for a loved one and rely on respite that’s no longer available — home health aides, day programs, even visits from friends — it’s important to find support where you can. Many support groups for caregivers are now meeting online, for example.

You can get creative, too: A neighbor who used to stop by to chat might want to visit through the window while you talk to each other on your cell phones.

3. Make outings count.

Many grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants that didn’t formerly offer delivery service now have that as an option. Choosing delivery can help keep you safe and let you free yourself from having to run errands.

If your loved one is able to go out for a short walk (and you can safely follow the CDC recommendation to stay six feet away from others), that can be a good way to get some fresh air and a change of scenery.

If your loved one can be left alone for a short time, taking a break in a separate part of the house is a way to recharge.

4. Take a moment for yourself.

If your loved one can be left alone for a short time, taking a break in a separate part of the house is a way to recharge, even if it’s just for 15 minutes a couple of times a day. Use the time to meditate, read, listen to music, call a friend, or anything else that brings you comfort.

If your loved one is in a care facility, you’re not currently able to visit — so why not reframe the moment as time to nourish yourself? Do home projects, reconnect with a hobby you’ve been missing, read a book you haven’t gotten to. It’s not the kind of respite you’d wish for, but using the time to care for yourself now will make you a better caregiver later.

5. Don't feel guilty.

Caregiving in the time of coronavirus is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced, and we’re all making our way through a new landscape. Enforced togetherness 24 hours a day can make anyone feel on edge, so don’t beat yourself up if you hear yourself getting irritable sometimes.

If you feel overwhelmed with guilt or anxiety, experts suggest scheduling a designated “worry time.” Take 10 minutes once or twice a day to write down the things you’re concerned about ... then fold up the piece of paper and set it aside along with the thoughts it contains.

6. Keep in touch with family and friends.

Everyone’s at home now, so it may be easier to connect with friends and family. It’s crucial to maintain relationships even when we can’t spend time with each other face to face; phone calls, video chats and texting sessions with the people who sustain us can be a gift to remind us that we’re not alone. Schedule calls ahead of time to make sure they happen ... and to have something to look forward to.

For the latest on COVID-19 in the community, visit Rush’s regularly updated information site.

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