About 53 million Americans are caregivers to a loved one. That’s more than 1 in 5 people who provide care to an adult or child with special needs at some point in the last 12 months, according to the 2020 Caregiving in U.S. report by AARP. “While many caregivers feel their role has given them a sense of purpose or meaning (about 51 percent), these positive emotions coexist with feelings of stress and strain”, https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2020/05/full-report-caregiving-in-the-united-states.doi.10.26419-2Fppi.00103.001.pdf.
While the world has a new normal this holiday season courtesy of COVID-19, there are many things that haven’t changed for the 53 million Americans who are family caregivers to a disabled or chronically ill loved one, one of them being caregiver burnout. Many family caregivers have experienced greater challenges with caring for aging parents during the pandemic due to restrictions with visitations in long term care facilities, hospitals, and having to quarantine and maintain social distancing. Providing the necessary support, oversight, and advocacy has been drastically changed and limited in many ways making it more stressful for caregivers and detrimental to the older adults that depend on them.
Caregiver burnout can show up in many shapes and forms including the following:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities
- Low mood, feeling blue
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Changes in appetite resulting in weight gain or loss
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Getting sick often
- Feelings of wanting to hurt oneself or the person for whom he or she is caring
While caregiving for a loved one is limited right now, this could be a great opportunity to recharge and get healthy. The holidays tend to be rushed and super busy. Take advantage of the pandemic’s restrictions this holiday season to take in some self-care. There may not be another holiday like this one (hopefully). Family caregivers can practice self-care in a variety of ways.
- Rest and restoration. Research has found that napping regularly reduces stress and even decreases your risk of heart disease. Other benefits include a boost for your memory, cognitive skills, creativity, and energy level. Power naps should be limited to just 20 minutes (sleep time) and are best mid-day between 1 pm and 3 pm.
- Learn. Learning is a form of self-care and can be combined with relaxation. Take time each day to learn something new, whether it be reading about caregiving skills, participating in an educational webinar, or researching another topic of interest.
- Take care of your body. Find ways to take care of your physical health, for example, skin care, muscle care, foot care, etc. This could be things like taking a warm bath with Epsom salt to soothe sore muscles or tension, putting on ointments or lotion to take care of your skin, or giving your feet a bath. Taking care of our physical health makes us feel good about ourselves while tending to some much-needed self-care.
- Slow down. The simple act of slowing down your pace and doing one task at a time can be a small but effective way to take care of yourself. We tend to be in a rush around this time of the year trying to fit everything we can in a day. Cut your “to do” list in half one day and take your time with completing each task. The rest can wait.