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How to Support Your Caregivers through COVID-19

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — April 27, 2020 — 4 min read
As the front line of COVID-19, our nations’ caregivers and mental health providers face many of the same worries and fears that we all have about this illness. Like you, their working and living settings have changed a lot in the past weeks. But, often they can’t keep social distance from those they care for. Since they may put themselves in harm’s way every day to take care of others, caregivers have some added concerns. For example:
  • They are probably worrying about helping their patients or loved ones get better, keeping them well physically and mentally, and helping them achieve their health goals. Right now, that is all a little harder for them — and for all of us.
  • Caregivers working where the virus is hurting a large number of people can become overwhelmed. There is more physical and mental stress caused by taking care of a lot of people who get very sick very fast, or sadly, may not recover. 
  • Staying in touch with friends and family during this time can also be tricky. Since they are around other people each day, there’s extra worry that the caregiver might bring the virus home and get their loved ones sick.  
With so many concerns, now’s a good time for everyone to help our caregivers and healthcare workers. Here are a few tips to help them — and first responders like police officers, firefighters and EMTs, for example — manage their well-being in this tough time. Encourage them to:
1. Connect with family. Use FaceTime, Zoom, or another video chat tool to see and talk to loved ones often. Calling or texting is also good. Make time to have fun and relax together. Play online games, watch a movie or concert together, or read to each other.
2. Take care of themselves first. There’s a saying from the airlines that goes: Put on your own oxygen mask first. That means caregivers should make sure they are in a good place to handle the challenges they’ll face at work. They can focus on small portions of each day — just their morning routine, for example, or their afternoon routine. And they should ask for help when they need it!

Urge caregivers to use tools from their self-care toolbox, like taking a hot bath, getting plenty of rest, or limiting how much news and chaos they allow into their life each day. Stay up to date, but don’t become consumed. Remind them to think of the positives: what they’re doing to stay healthy, the ways they’re taking care of their families, and their steps to limit their exposure to the virus at work and home. 

3. Focus on the positives. Look for small things to be grateful for, like flowers blooming or the smell of rain, or a kind word from a patient or coworker. At the same time, pick something to look forward to at the end of a busy day. A warm cup of tea, or a walk with the dog, for example. These small joys can help caregivers keep moving forward. 

4. Prepare for possible events. Caregivers and mental health providers should limit their expectations for what will happen next and try to maintain hope for a positive outcome. Become familiar with ways to handle grief. We are all grieving for our old way of life with uncertainty about what the future will be. Help caregivers focus on what they can control — not what they can’t control. They must allow themselves time and space to feel any emotions that are coming up. 

5. Show themselves some grace. Being the person everyone turns to in a crisis can get to anyone. Caregivers should ease their own stress by recognizing that they don’t always have to have the perfect response or do the perfect thing. Sometimes it’s okay not to say anything at all. Give caregivers the freedom to be genuine and let them know they don’t have to pretend everything is alright if it’s not. We are all going through a new situation and the unknowns will create new, sometimes unexpected emotional and mental responses. 

Family and friends also can support caregivers and mental health providers by knowing the signs of mental stress. Be ready to step in with help for caregivers who experience:
  • Detachment, or feeling like they’re not part of what’s happening around them
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Fearfulness
  • Shame
  • Physical illness
  • Being absent from work
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Poor concentration
  • Second guessing
Together, we can help caregivers understand how their work might impact them, and help them achieve a sense of balance and connection in their lives as we all work through COVID-19.

About the Author
Stephanie Therrell, BS, QP, Member Engagement Specialist at Cardinal Innovations Healthcare

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