How to maintain your mental health while caregiving as the pandemic drones on

Nicole M. Clagett Image
Friday, January 8, 2021

It goes without saying that the pandemic will be around for some time in the future.

The early days of the pandemic when we were all wearing our superhero capes with that "can do anything attitude" are beginning to get a bit worn and tattered. The days of popping tents in the backyard to give kids a fun camping experience or creating tea parties at home to do something a little different, the parades of cars going past the nursing homes, and the window visits have all lost their luster. As caregivers how are we to continue to maintain our mental health for the months to come?

There were not existing guidelines that explain how isolation should be carried out for a global pandemic, how hospitals should be prepared, or what we can expect when businesses begin opening again. Will things ever be the "same"? One of the banned words from 2020 is "unprecedented" but the fact is, this pandemic is an unprecedented event for our world and even more so for caregivers who were gripping on to loosely-created social structures and resources to make it through their days prior to COVID-19.

For the average American there is a great deal of anxiety, fear, and depression. Folks have lost their jobs, their "normal" connections, and most heartbreakingly, loved ones. On top of that, the very mention of the pandemic can be politically polarizing among family, friends, and colleagues.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing that we have experienced, Americans have been reporting increasing strain on their mental health. Depression, like anxiety and fear, has many symptoms. It is very common for people to report feeling sad, empty, or hopeless; having difficulty with day-to-day tasks; increased fatigue; and sleep difficulties. People with generalized anxiety tend to worry excessively and find it difficult to control that worry or stop it, even with logic. This can lead to feelings of being "on edge," and it may cause symptoms like sleep disturbances and the feeling of a fast heartbeat.

Here are a few tips to help you maintain your mental health in the coming months:

1. Maintain social contact: Even as we are all starting to feel "Zoomed out," creating time for phone calls or video chats is incredibly important.

2. Keep a schedule: We hear jokes in media about wearing pajama bottoms all day or not even bothering to shower or shave. Creating a schedule for personal hygiene, exercise, social engagement, and meals is so important. Get dressed up for YOU! Exercise for you! Recently a caregiver on ABC's Caregivers Corner said she is going to get back to applying her facial creams because it just makes her feel better about herself!

3. Forgive yourself: We have all had moments during the pandemic where we have not been at our "best." We must forgive ourselves for our moments of weakness. It feels like everything we are doing takes longer and every outing is a calculated risk. Give yourself the gift of grace.

4. Get moving: Even a temporary change of scenery can be a huge mood booster. You may be sick of the parks in your neighborhood or walking around the same homes, so try taking a drive if only for a few miles. Park, get out, and get a new view!

5. Get help: There is no shame in seeking outside help especially when you feel like you are feeling like you are drowning in stress and caregiving responsibilities. It can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. With the increased popularity of telehealth, you can even have a virtual visit with a counselor.

If you would like more information about mental health resources available in the community, please check out these resources:

Suicide Prevention Services

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Crisis/Emergency Services

NC Crisis Services - Find help for a mental health or substance use crisis in your county.

United Way NC 211 - Help finding emergency food, clothing, health care, shelter, and many other resources.

If you are caregiving for a loved one and would like to get connected with others in our community who are walking the same path, join ABC11's Caregivers Corner moderated by Nicole Clagett. The group has more than a thousand people supporting one another and sharing wonderful information and resources daily. More helpful tips about this topic can be found on ABC11's Caregivers Corner section.