When work is your life – not only at your workplace, but as a caregiver at home – how do you cope during a pandemic, when the stakes are raised, the community tension is at an all-time high, your physical networks have been grounded, and your pre-existing struggles are amplified?
Caregivers really are miracle workers. Whether caring for elderly parents, a chronically-ill or disabled child, or a dependent spouse, it’s often a thankless job usually carried out while continuing to participate in the workforce, maintaining a household and juggling various other commitments.
When you’re tired after a busy day of work, you can’t just come home and rest. When your friends have social gatherings, your freedoms are more restricted. Yet you continue to care, prepare meals and medications, drive your loved one to and from hospital, help them interpret doctors’ advice, steady them as they walk, arrange your house to suit changing needs; you nurture, encourage and bolster them.
And then you add in a pandemic, where your already-challenging visits to GP clinics and hospital are made more difficult by infection-control measures, visitors to inpatients are limited, and perhaps your income and usual home help or services have been disrupted.
The relentlessness of the demands and juggle for caregivers can be exhausting and sometimes overwhelming, and your compassion can come at the cost of your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Particularly at this time when so many are finding their own lives difficult, and everyone seems to have forgotten that your daily struggles and heavy responsibilities are still continuing. How can you restore your energy and prevent yourself from burning out, physically, mentally and emotionally?
Caregiver burnout can manifest itself as depression, anxiety, social isolation, loss of interest in hobbies, feelings of helplessness, worsened health, poor sleep quality, emotional and physical exhaustion, and irritability. There are usually several factors at play in the development of burnout amongst caregivers:
neglect of self-care: you might be giving your all to fulfill your loved one’s needs, but forgetting your own needs in the process
overwhelm: the constant nature of these demands, on top of normal daily responsibilities can heighten long-term worry and stress
negativity: amplified by personality clashes, household stress, and the emotional drain of making significant decisions and dealing with the impacts of your loved one’s life-threatening or life-limiting illness
loss of personal time and space: if you’re a caregiver within your home, duty and relaxation share the same space, which can be a barrier to work/life balance.
How can you manage Burnout to prevent symptoms worsening your health long-term, and improve your quality of life?
Ask for help: whilst fulfilling every obligation on your own can seem noble and virtuous, it’s not realistic or possible, especially indefinitely. Try and work out how you can delegate some household chores – even if they’re not done to the same standard. Accept offers of meals from friends and neighbours – most people will be only too happy to cook a bit extra and drop it off if they’re asked, even despite these new social distancing laws. Take care to put extra precautions in place during this pandemic, and ensure you clean containers and wash your hands after the transaction. And lastly, there are still organisations that are out working to minimise the hardships of many disadvantaged and vulnerable communities during this time. If you’re part of the Rare and Less Common Cancers community, give us a call.
Join a caregiver support group: sometimes these are the only groups that will understand the unique stressors and demands that come with caring for another person, and will provide the empathy you need. If you can identify a few friends within a network who are experiencing similar hardships, you can feel heard, and it may give you a sense of belonging, and make you feel less lonely and isolated. Rare Cancers Australia can point you in the direction of different support groups.
Respite care services: if caring for a loved one is a 24/7 responsibility for you, your body and brain will flag soon enough. But before you get to that point and reach overexertion, consider using respite care. It offers various options to take the load off your shoulders for a period of time, thus giving you time to rejuvenate your mind, rest your body, and get some sleep, in order to return somewhat more refreshed.
Prioritise your wellbeing: sometimes, when your focus is so fixed on your loved one, it’s easy to forget your own needs. It’s not selfish to look after yourself, and failure to do so can be a disservice to yourself. Your quality of care for your loved one is also compromised when you’re run down and emotionally drained. Try to find some regular time and space to exercise, eat nutritious foods, forgive yourself, take yourself to see your GP and catch up on your preventative healthcare, or check in with a psychologist / counselor for your mental health. Be gentle with yourself, connect with family and friends who are supportive and understanding, focus on the small things in your daily life that bring you joy. There are many platforms that offer meditation training or mindfulness activities nowadays, and these can be incorporated into even small pockets of time during your days. During this pandemic, any groups or individuals are offering free access to their fitness, yoga or pilates online programs (eg. Down Dog workouts and yoga), and if music is your thing, many orchestras are being live-streamed (eg. Berlin Philharmonic, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra), and many choirs (eg. Pub Choir) are singing arrangements together online, producing spectacular performances that you can participate in or listen to from the comfort of your own home.
With this coronavirus pandemic happening, it’s more critical than ever to ‘fill up your tank’ as often as you can so that you can make the distance – just like a vehicle. Support networks are still in place, just perhaps moving to a more virtual platform. Meal-trains still exist, just with extra precautionary measures in place. Hospital, primary health and outpatient services are still operating, just possibly scaled back or via telehealth instead. If you’re part of the Rare and Less Common Cancers community, we, at Rare Cancers Australia, are still functioning in the same capacity – we’re still at the other end of the phone, ready to listen, understand, guide and assist you in whatever way we can. Because caring for someone with cancer doesn’t stop for a pandemic.