Caregiving

Even during normal times, being a caregiver is stressful. Long hours, unexpected crises, and isolation lead to caregiver burnout even in the best of times. Add a global health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, and caregiver stress and burnout are even more prevalent. Caregiver burnout usually builds up over time, showing up as symptoms like anxiety, sleeplessness, and chronic exhaustion. Whether you’re taking care of a family member who has COVID-19 or one with a different medical issue, here are some causes of caregiver burnout and ways to combat it.

What leads to caregiver burnout during COVID-19?

Everyone’s daily routine has been upended during this crisis. However, people who have chronic medical conditions and their caregivers rely on their daily routine. For patients with cognitive issues like Alzheimer’s and other dementias, changes to the routine can be especially stressful. Isolation is also a major contributor to caregiver burnout.

During the pandemic, it has been crucial to keep people with underlying health conditions, the immunocompromised, and the elderly away from the virus. This means that caretakers have had to be vigilant with their social distancing, leading to even more feelings of isolation than usual. Many caregivers are also over 65 and in the group who is at higher risk of complications from COVID-19. The additional worry of catching COVID-19 and passing it on to their loved one adds anxiety as well.

Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Ipsit Vahia writes that, “Many people are now having to balance both caregiving and other professional commitments at the same time their usual support system is unavailable to them.” If caregiving isn’t your only job, then stress from work may be adding to the pressure that caregiving brings. Learning how to work from home, dealing with extra protective measures and cleaning on the job, or changes in work schedules can make any other responsibilities, like caretaking, even more difficult.

Lack of support is another factor that leads to caregiver burnout. Right now, even friends and family members who would normally help out may not be able to. In addition, facilities like adult day care facilities and respite programs that usually offer relief and support to caregivers may not be operating as usual.

Limited interactions with healthcare professionals during the pandemic also leads to extra caregiver stress. Situations or health care questions that would normally be solved with a quick visit to the doctor may now be delayed due to COVID-19-related issues. Telehealth, in which a patient or caretaker interacts with a doctor using video chat or other technology, is a solution, but many people aren’t comfortable with this process. Having to set up a video chat just adds to the stress for many people.

How can caregivers fight burnout and relieve stress?

Acknowledge the difficulty of caregiving. It’s is a demanding job, both mentally and physically. Realize the value of self-care. It’s not selfish to allow yourself enough sleep and enough breaks during the day. Taking care of yourself is good for you; it’s also good for your patient, because it allows you to do the best job you can.

Keep up with COVID-19 news, but don’t overdo it. Constantly watching the news or reading about the pandemic can induce anxiety. If you feel like you’re under a constant barrage of COVID-19 information, try to limit your intake of news to a few times a day. Remember to stick to the facts, too. News spreading through social media, for example, isn’t always factual, and can just add to your stress.

Ask for help, but from afar. Caregiving doesn’t have to be a one-person job, even if you have to social distance. Think of ways friends and family can help out without actually coming into contact with you, that can take some tasks off of your hands. Let people shop for groceries and drop them off, or run to the pharmacy to pick up medicine for you. Social distancing doesn’t have to equal social isolation. Reach out to friends and family for emotional support. A phone call or a socially-distanced visit outdoors can help you get through this tough time.