Managing Caregiver Anxiety as the Economy Re-opens

As parts of the country re-open, caregivers face new challenges.

As parts of the country re-open, re-close, or re-re-open, caregivers are faced with a set of new challenges. Continuing to follow the precautions recommended by the CDC and state and local authorities and continuing to work with new protocols for getting to the office and being in the workspace is stressful. Kids may be learning remotely, back to in-person school, or managing hybrid learning schedules; there may be few or no options for childcare or recreational activities. Caregivers are faced with more change and uncertainty.

Still the best thing to do is keep calm and stay informed.

Most of us are still wondering how best to keep our families safe. Worry, confusion and shifting ground continue to contribute to the anxiety and fear felt by many of us across the United States and around the globe. While the fight or flight response may give you an edge if you’re being chased by a lion, it doesn’t help much in our current situation. Better to let common sense and calm prevail! Start to do this by attending to the practical aspects of caring for your family, your aging or ill loved ones, and your work. Then, figure out what you need to do to manage your own anxiety and stress.

This guide provides tips, tools, and suggestions for managing your anxiety as the country moves forward during the coronavirus pandemic.

Know what NOT to do.

Sometimes our own behaviors and actions contribute to our anxiety. It can be helpful to eliminate, reduce, or change some of these habits that may be making things worse for you. This approach of “addition through subtraction” can yield great results. For instance:

  • Take a news break. Watching or listening to the news or reading news stories on the internet all day long is generally not helpful. Consider checking the news just once or twice a day, and only consult reputable sources, for example, the CDC, the World Health Organization, or your state or local government websites. Verifying that your sources are reliable is especially important. Avoid relying on social media posts, which are more likely to include alarmist stories or misinformation.
  • Be aware of and avoid scams. Unfortunately, scammers take every opportunity to get you to click or respond and reveal personal information, especially during times of crisis. Don’t fall prey to scare tactics or too-good-to-be-true offers on the internet or on the phone. Be discriminating about who you talk to or respond to online. Older people are often targeted by scammers. Help your older family members understand this. Social Security is NOT calling.
  • Don’t deny your anxiety. Experts say that the more you try to tamp down or banish anxiety the stronger it may become. Try to accept what you are feeling, notice where it “lives” in your body, and acknowledge it. Uncertainty is uncomfortable, and the coronavirus pandemic is unfamiliar territory.

Take positive steps to manage your stress.

Now that you’ve turned off the television and stepped away from social media for the moment, what positive steps can you take to relieve your anxiety?

Here are 12 practices and activities you may find helpful. Find what works for you and make it part of your routine.

  • Go outdoors. Being outside (especially in the sunshine) improves mood. If you can get to a park or the local woods, you’ll get some exercise and a dose of nature. Going outdoors is safe and acceptable if you follow recommendations; wear a cloth face covering or mask and keep a distance of at least six feet from others. Understand your local rules for safety in public spaces. For example, chatting with other dog walkers at a distance is considered safe and appropriate, But no petting other people’s dogs! If there are no parks nearby, or you are uncomfortable with the idea of running into other people, that’s okay. Get out on your balcony or deck or walk around your backyard instead.
  • Accept what you can control and let go of what you cannot control. Think about it and make a list. It can be helpful to identify in writing:
    • Things you have control over: For example, you can wash your hands; you can call your sister; you can call elderly neighbors to check how they’re doing; you can model social distancing; you can take a half hour to play a board game with your child.
    • Things you have no control over: For example, you cannot change the rules on visiting nursing homes; you cannot control how other people behave; you cannot change the way the stock market fluctuates.
  • Listen to music. Music is important in every culture to reaffirm identity, values, and community. Some research shows that listening to music can aid in concentration and even boost the immune system. Whatever genre of music works for you — helps you feel calm or lifts your mood — listen more.
  • Move more. Going to the gym or attending Zumba class may or may not be possible for a while. YouTube is replete with all sorts of exercise programming — from five-minute workouts to extensive training regimens, dance routines, yoga, and tai chi. Not into YouTube? Clean the house, climb stairs, balance on one foot while brushing your teeth, sit on the floor and stretch. And, if you’ve followed our recommendation above to listen to more music, it just might lead to a dance party with you and your kids while schools are closed and you’re working remotely!
  • Stay in touch with your people. Phone calls, Facetime, WhatsApp, and a host of other ways to connect are available to check in with friends and family. Stay apart to prevent the spread of the virus, but stay in touch to keep each other’s spirits up.
  • Watch a movie; read or listen to a book. These activities are great distractions on their own. Make it a virtual group activity by planning to watch a movie with friends each at your own homes and then have a Google Hangouts or Zoom discussion afterward. Set up an online book club to get maintain both social distancing and connections with others.
  • Do a project or learn something new. Occupying yourself and your hands can help settle your mind. Now is the time to clean out drawers, start a jigsaw puzzle, finish that knitting or woodworking project you once started. Online classes, online museum exhibits, and other online “field trips” are a great way to expand your mind, access your creativity, and connect to the larger world.
  • Download a meditation app such as HeadspaceInsight Timer, or Calm. YouTube also has guided meditations available and options for practicing focused, calm breathing. Or, forget the apps and just breathe, in through your nose, out through your mouth. Ten times. Repeat as necessary.
  • Create a routine around your self-care practices. Routines are comforting and can bracket the more chaotic spaces in between. For example, take a break every day at the same time for a walk. Whether you’re now working at home or not, end your workday at the same time each day if possible, and detach/disconnect as much as you can. Try ending each day with a hot bath, shower, or other relaxing ritual.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake. Coffee, tea, chocolate, and “energy drinks” all contain caffeine. If you tend to get jittery or anxious when you have too much caffeine under normal circumstances, you may be even more sensitive under stress. Keep a close eye on how much caffeine you are ingesting and consider decreasing your caffeine consumption slightly to see if that helps calm you. Don’t cut out caffeine completely all at once, however. Doing so may give you a headache!
  • Make time to laugh. You’ve probably heard the adage “laughter is the best medicine.” It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s especially true in times of uncertainty. Watch funny movies, television shows, or stand-up comedy. Google “funniest cartoons of 2020.” Share funny memes. Be silly with your kids. Call or video chat with your funniest friend.
  • Remind yourself that most cases of COVID-19 are not severe. According to recent data from the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 causes mild to moderate illness in most cases.

See to your own needs.

As a parent or the caregiver of a relative who is ill or disabled, you may be preoccupied with meeting the needs of those you love — and not paying enough attention to your own needs. Conserving your energy and resources is important today and will continue to be so as things change over the coming months. Ask yourself, “What do I need do to support myself while I manage the day-to-day demands of work and family?” Then, take a moment to listen, really listen, for an answer.

Try naming three to five things you need every day that contribute to your sense of well-being. Think of the things or habits that make you feel safe and supported. Write them down using an “I” statement. Be sure they are in the present tense, as if you are already doing them. If they are things that you can make happen, make them a priority and do them. If there are items, actions, or behaviors that others can help with, ask for the help and support you need. Here are some examples:

  • I take at least 30 minutes each day to myself, with no interruptions.
  • I enjoy a hot meal for dinner.
  • I make sure my car’s gasoline tank is always at least half full.
  • I am the last person to turn off the lights, lock up, and turn in.
  • I rough-house with my dog.
  • I drink my morning cup of coffee in bed.

Managing your own anxiety benefits you and all those who depend on you.

Don’t expect perfection.

The world is very different right now, and we can expect to live with uncertainty for a while. New knowledge will emerge about this coronavirus — how it spreads, how to prevent infection, effective treatments, and potential vaccinations. The way we live and work will continue to evolve. Hanging on to our usual expectations is likely to cause us and our families additional stress.

Now is not the time to expect perfection. You might just have to throw that carefully crafted schedule out the window on some days, or all days. You can try again tomorrow. Or not. And it’s okay. The house might be messier than it usually is. Your child might use more screen time than you’d normally allow. You might struggle to balance parenting or the care of loved ones with your work; some days you’ll feel more competent in one of these areas than you will in another. And the next day, the balance may skew in the opposite direction. That’s also okay. Like everyone else right now, you’re doing the best that you can. And the best that you can is good enough.

Talk to your doctor.

If your anxiety becomes severe or you are experiencing increasing levels of depression, contact your doctor, therapist, or a qualified health professional to find out if there are other options that may help. Many health insurance companies are now authorizing telehealth visits for mental health services. If you feel unsafe at any time, dial 911 for emergency assistance.

Torchlight does not provide medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice because of something you read on Torchlight. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911.

Torchlight does not endorse the organizations or technologies mentioned in this document, but offers their information as a sample of the kinds of materials and services that are available.

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