A caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need, such as an ill spouse or partner, a disabled child, or an aging relative. Employees who are caregivers for adults and elders are some of the unsung heroes of the pandemic. While caregiving can be joyful and rewarding, it can also be overwhelming or stressful for even the most resilient people. The pandemic, which has increased social isolation and decreased or changed availability of social services, has made the role of caregiving even more challenging.
A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found unpaid adult caregivers are so stressed, they are experiencing disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal thoughts. During Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month, Balanced You reminds caregivers we are here for you. Please read below for tips and resources to help you attend to your own emotional well-being and support your caregiving efforts.
Signs of caregiver stress
As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried.
- Feeling tired often.
- Becoming easily irritated or angry.
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy.
- Feeling sad.
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain, or other physical problems.
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications.
Tips for taking care of yourself
If you’re experiencing any of the signs of caregiver stress, there are steps you can take to lessen the stress you are experiencing. Consider the following:
- Connect with others. Research caregiving resources in your community. There may be support groups designed for caregivers of people with the same diagnosis or circumstances as the person you’re caring for.
- Accept help. Remember you are only one person. Invite others to help you and accept offers of assistance. If you have trouble answering the question “what can I do to help you?,” consider making a list of acts that would be helpful – such as help with dinner, cooking, or errands – and letting others choose what they’d like to do.
- Seek social support. Reach out to friends and loved ones. Make time for fun, joy, and decompression with others. If you find you are spending less time than you’d like with friends and loved ones, intentionally schedule time to hang out – virtually or safely in person- at least once a week.
- Remember to attend to your own physical needs. Try and find time for movement every day, focus on foods that make you feel good, and remember to hydrate with water or herbal teas.
- Rest. Rest is one of the most important aspects of self-care. Strive for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and listen to your body; some days you may need more.
- Focus on your mental health. Your mental health is important. Take intentional steps to prioritize your mental health during this time, by continuing practices you know work for you, or considering some of the mental health resources listed below.
For more information, on self-care during a pandemic, visit this blogpost from Balanced You.
Sometimes finding someone else to care for your loved one is the best thing you can do for your well-being and the well-being of the person you’re caring for. Consider the following options:
- In-home respite. Healthcare aides come to your home to provide companionship, nursing services, or both.
- Adult care centers and programs. Some centers provide care for both older adults and young children, and the two groups may spend time together.
- Short-term nursing homes. Some assisted living homes, memory care homes and nursing homes accept people needing care for short stays while caregivers are away.
Support and counseling
If you could use help locating respite care, or if you or someone in your family would benefit from mental health support, check out the resources below.
- Making Life Easier: Making Life Easier (MLE). MLE is a free program for all King County employees that can assist you in locating and coordinating respite care and caregiver resources. MLE also offers free counseling to anyone who shares your address. For more information, visit the Making Life Easier website.
- Therapy via telehealth: Regence and Kaiser therapists and other healthcare providers can be accessed from the comfort and safety of your home via telehealth. For more information about telehealth, visit the King County telehealth webpage. For more information about continuing medical and other benefits following lay-off, visit the King County Benefits webpage.
- Mental Health Resource Guide: For a more comprehensive list of King County employee and community mental health resources, review the Mental Health Resource Guide via this link.
If you find you cannot balance your work schedule with your caregiving duties, contact your supervisor or HR manager to discuss your options. You may be able to arrange a flex schedule that allows you to do both. If you cannot balance both, caregivers may have access to FMLA leave which allows paid time away from work to attend to sick family members.
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