Putting on your own oxygen mask first- Mental health for caregivers during the Pandemic

Putting on your own oxygen mask first-  Mental health for caregivers during the Pandemic

Author: Palasha Parikh

There is ton of information available regarding the precautions, testing and procedure during public health crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic.  However, in the process of taking care, being or feeling ill, what often gets overlooked is the well-being of the caregiver.

Taking care of a family member who is affected by the illness or shows symptoms in addition to a pre-existing condition can be taxing for the caregiver’s own mental and physical health. A lot of times it is not the focus of discussions on services and support. Caregiver’s can often feel drained as a result of juggling between caring and managing other responsibilities.  Moreover, with the Covid-19, the risk for contagion adds to the fear and anxiety the caregivers may experience. The current situation increases the chances of family members getting infected, as a result of proximity to the affected person, which can be demanding for a family.

What makes this situation difficult, precisely in times of a pandemic or public health crisis is that there is either less or complete lack of house help to share other daily tasks and duties. It may make the caregiver feel burdened with work, especially in smaller families or families where the major responsibility usually falls on one or two members. Additionally, the slow down in economy can contribute to increased distress for families struggling to maintain their finances. The panic and anxiety surrounding this phenomenon, only amplifies the stress.

The need for emotional support to caregivers is not always realized with equal importance. In fact, lot of caregivers themselves may not understand and be aware of their own physical and emotional health needs. Identifying when the stress is beyond manageable and significantly affecting one’s mental health is essential. Caregiver’s shouldn’t feel hesitant and ashamed in asking for support or help from others. Even when one doesn’t feel it’s necessary for them, taking and break to refuel yourself, only helps you come back with more energy and service your loved ones better.

What does burnout and stress in caregivers look like?

One may have to pay close attention to their feelings, mood, health in day to day life. Transitions can often disrupt our routines, making us feel disoriented.

Also, what importantly differentiates caregiving in other situations such as a chronic illness, from caregiving in this particular situation: with the Covid-19 pandemic, is the potential health risk it carries. There is a genuine fear regarding the symptoms and health of the infected loved one and also for the caregiver’s own health. This naturally leads to heightened feelings of anxiousness, uncertainty and worry.

These are a few common signs that may help you identify distress, although this may not be an exhaustive list.

  • Feeling overwhelmed and constantly Easily getting anxious and alarmed over small changes/signs that may not warrant such a response; Leading to frequent emotional or mental breakdowns.
  • Feeling constantly tired and low on energy and disturbance in sleep patterns. Changes in sleep patterns can also be due to caring for a sick member, which shouldn’t be alarming. However, pay attention if they continue and are disrupted drastically (no sleep or feeling always sleepy).
  • Feeling irritable, angry or hopeless, helpless, deeply sad all the time.
  • Losing interest in activities you enjoy or generally like doing.
  • Frequent, unexplained physical problems, body aches, headaches or sudden changes in eating habits.

How do we deal with it?

Feeling distressed and anxious in such a situation is natural and evidently affects your general mental health. It is something a lot of people and caregivers experience. However, it shouldn’t be ignored. Stress management is vital and prioritizing your own health is equally important. Take the necessary steps to help yourself relax, replenish and maintain emotional and physical health.

  • Try talking to someone– a friend, another family member. Share your feelings and worries and stay connected with your social support group/persons through online media.
  • Use helplines and on-call resources to find information and help deal with distress and difficult emotions.
  • If you find more comfort in a professional. Reaching out to counsellors and psychologists can help. Many of them offer online counselling services.
  • Allocate a definite time in the day for yourself when convenient. You can let others know if you require this time to yourself. Use this time to do an activity of your interest or simply rest. Setting a routine helps smoothen the process.
  • Try relaxation techniques like meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, listening to music, journal writing, reading etc. to unwind.
  • Taking care of others can often cause changes to caregiver’s routine. Do the best to prioritize eating and rest and fulfil one’s own physical health needs.
  • Ask for help. Family members should share responsibilities and tasks. Especially when it is advised by experts to limit caregiving and exposure of illness to one person. Helping with other duties can make caregiving easier and less stressful.

As the popular quote goes, you cannot serve from an empty vessel. It is important to attend to oneself while providing care for others. Remember, everyone is experiencing this together.

If you or someone you know identifies as a caregiver, share and help them find support.

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