Caring for others is a challenging job at the best of times, but during a pandemic “challenging” takes on a whole new meaning!
Carer stress is something I experienced in the 90s when I was assaulted at work. I was close to quitting my job looking after young people and children whose behaviour reflected their traumatic childhood experiences. I nearly burned right out a couple of times.
The thing is, most carers do their job because they “care” and some do it for love & no money. Some tend to our loved ones & perform the most intimate of personal care, wipe the brow of the sick, deal with end of life grief on a regular basis and all often for a minimum wage and unfair travel arrangements. This stress has been magnified under Covid-19’s shadow.
So if you are a carer, what can you do for you? Firstly look after yourself. The first rule in saving someone else is to put on your own metaphorical mask first! We function better if we are rested & nourished:
- Make sure you get enough sleep (see my Lockdown Insomnia blog)
- An engine running on half or empty is compromised & won’t keep running well. So eat as much fresh veg as you can, top this up with fruit, good protein and balance this with some healthy whole carbs. Try to ensure your engine has regular fuel stops.
- Stay hydrated! Get into good habits of drinking water e.g. enjoy a drink with those you care for, drink each time you get in & out the car attending a new visit, drink before & after putting on fresh PPE, have breaks & drink in them. Carry a water bottle with you as much as possible as it acts as a prompt to remind you to drink.
- Take time out for you, whether that is a soak in the bath, a run, a book or dancing like nobody’s watching in the kitchen – do something that nourishes your heart and soul. I recommend 2-3 drops each of Benzoin & Lemongrass essential oils in half a cup of milk added to a warm bath to relax and prevent burnout. Add a few drops of Juniper Berry which is good to strengthen nerves for carers.
- Exercise! I have been doing Joe Wicks with my son which has been more fun than I thought and my pilates teacher loves seeing our pets joining in – her colleague calls it “pawlates”, I call it taking advantage when Elvis my dog comes and gets a sneaky lick in while I’m curling my spine into a bridge. There are loads of free online exercise routines to suit all and taking advantage of our daily exercise trips out for a walk, run or cycle can be so grounding.
- Use your support network. Look to colleagues and supervision lines to talk about your work. Ask friends to help. “Interdependence” is a healthy balance between dependence & interdependence where you can get on with jobs on your own, but also know when you need to ask for help. This is about healthy healthy relationships of give and take. So if you need someone to pick up some essentials for you while you have been picking up essentials for the vulnerable all day, ask. Many people feel at a loss of how to help at this time, so being asked to help can be the lifeline they need right now too with regards their own mental health.
- Maintain your interests and maybe take up a new one. It gives you a different focus, something else to talk about and positive memories to look back on.
- Stay connected! Go the extra mile to make those vid chats, phones calls & chat to neighbours. Connectivity is vital for our mental & social wellbeing.
- Forgive yourself! OFTEN!! We are pretty much all working with a compromised brain at the moment. So forgive yourself often if you don’t get things right. I tell people I am wearing my “forgettapants” far more often these days as our brain locks down into fight/flight/freeze mode … and on that note ….
- BREATHE …. Get into habits of breathing deeply with the emphasis on the exhale. You can do it anywhere, any time & it helps regulate your brain to bring more of it back online, as does music, playing an instrument.
These are some suggestions to look after yourself. What else works for you? Build looking after you into your new daily rhythm. Remember it’s OK to not be OK. Some days I just lie in the sun or veg out and get lost in a movie and let the chores remain undone – they get done eventually. It’s about not sweating over the small stuff and sending our brain back into stress fight/flight mode.
You really are doing the best you can under extreme circumstances every – single – day! Thank you!
So please look after you. Our community is so grateful for what you are doing. Keep well, so you can keep doing it well.
Warm wishes, Nicolle