Dealing with Caregiver Stress During the COVID-19 Crisis

Assisted living

By Beth B. Ulrich, LCSW

Caring for a loved one is STRESSFUL…even under the best of circumstances. As a caregiver, you confront so many challenges – dressing, bathing and toileting another person, managing medications, finances, meals and more. Your everyday life requires significant adjustments, not only in mastering various skills, but also in re-defining relationships. Caregiving is a journey full of choices…about attitude, approaches, coping, and surviving.

Any caregiver can legitimately say, “ I didn’t ask for this” when caring for another family member who is physically and/or mentally challenged. The unexpected and often unwelcome changes often result in increased stress, resentment and anger, even in the best of relationships.

Caregivers often find themselves deteriorating physically and/or emotionally leading to poor self-care, substance abuse, and other unhealthy choices. A caregiver ultimately may become exhausted, anxious, feel powerless, helpless, or even traumatized. Guilt, grief, compassion fatigue, financial burdens, unexpected or unwanted responsibilities, constant changes in expectations, home, and family disruption can turn a “caregiving journey” into a catastrophe for everyone.

And all this BEFORE the COVID-19 pandemic, which has turned our world upside down and intensified any or all of the previous challenges!

How can anyone possibly find anything positive about caregiving now?

Tips for caregivers

The COVID-19 crisis is forcing everyone to make changes in their routines. Sheltering in place regulations mean many caregivers are spending even more time at home with those who need assistance. This may result in increased challenges when it comes to patience and compassion.

With more opportunities to “be still” due to stay at home orders, it is time to reconsider the caregiving relationship and the personal history that led to the current situation.

Managing difficult behaviors and attitudes may be frustrating, resulting in feelings of bitterness and resentment. However, you can often “reframe” negative feelings by reflecting and examining previous experiences and better memories. You can improve the caregiving relationship by transitioning tensions and worries into peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness. It may even become pleasant and enjoyable. The following two books may offer support and assistance: Compassionate Care: Practical Love for your Aging Parents by Marilyn Fanning and Creating Moments of Joy by Jolene Brackey.

As the relationship becomes more positive, various caregiver approaches will be more successful.

  • Reduce tension by avoiding arguing. This is a major requirement.
  • Maintaining perspective of what is controllable and uncontrollable is a constant challenge. The caregiver must to take responsibility for changing behaviors and attitudes rather than expecting the “patient” to change.
  • Set firm and realistic boundaries.
  • Consider priorities : urgent vs. important but not emergent.

As these changes are implemented, the person receiving care will likely become more cooperative, making the relationship more enjoyable.

How to cope

There are multiple coping mechanisms for caregivers. Do what works best for you! Some proven options include: journaling, reading, favorite entertainment (old movies), exercising (a walk works wonders!), resting (get plenty of sleep), cooking, and enjoying good food or even a glass of wine (in moderation). Connect with a friend, seek counseling, indulge in simple pleasures, listen to your favorite music, and have fun and laugh. Be sure to allow for time with the other significant members of the family (i.e. you spouse, children, grandchildren).

Finally, and MOST important: Have a time and place for daily quiet reflection, prayer, and meditation. Focus on tools that enable you to nurture your spiritual life. You may want to develop a worry list and a corresponding prayer list. Attempt to manage suffering, crises, and difficult life passages through resources like books, websites, recorded sermons, etc. Every day, remind yourself of the higher power in your life. Stay connected with others who share your faith, religion, and spiritual values for mutual support and growth. Most importantly, examine where you find your peace. Offer and receive grace from those who are in your life.

To be a caregiver can be challenging and demoralizing, but not irreparable. Similarly, the coronavirus is a frightening enemy for everyone today, but not unconquerable. By re-evaluating and implementing changes in attitudes, approaches, coping mechanisms, and survival techniques individually, in your family and throughout the community, your care giving journey will be healthier and more successful, just as by the grace of God the coronavirus enemy WILL be defeated.

Beth B. Ulrich is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at CMG-Piedmont PsychiatriCenter.

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