During this time of physical distancing, living with someone with mental illness can be isolating and tiring, especially when respite care is not an option or when you’re the sole caregiver.
Drawing on the knowledge of Case Managers and Program Coordinators here at CMHA, we have collected a list of tips and resources that will help you cope during this difficult time and avoid burnout.
Everyone responds differently to the effects of a pandemic. While some may be worried and scared, others might vent their fears and anger at the situation. If it is possible, validate their feelings, while trying to listen and empathize with them. If you know where their stresses and concerns lie, you may be able to problem solve in order to help reduce these feelings. When working with youth, ask how they would like to be treated during this time to get a clear idea of where they stand. Ensure that the person you are caregiving for is also getting their information from reliable sources in order to help ease feelings of panic or anxiety (see Get Information from Reliable Sources below).
While you are assessing their concerns, also don’t forget to check in with yourself as well. You may be feeling a range of emotions during this time which is completely normal. Take time to grieve events or plans that have had to be cancelled because of COVID-19 and put strategies in place to help ease anxious thoughts when they appear. You can get some of these strategies from this radio clip and article that are filled with information on how to manage your emotions through the pandemic and beyond.
Get Information from Reliable Sources
With news stories and tidbits of information popping up everywhere, it can be hard to cut through the noise. Refer to websites like Public Health Ontario, the World Health Organization and the Government of Canada in order to get accurate information. Reduce the amount of time you and the person you are caregiving for consume this information by checking up on updates only once or twice a day. Additionally, if possible set boundaries on talking to people who have difficulties discussing anything but COVID-19 or redirect their attention to something more positive.
Even though the person you are caregiving for may need care around the clock, carving out even 10 minutes for yourself can help to quiet your mind. Try and find a place of solitude if possible and start a journal to jot down your thoughts, releasing them from your mind so you can move on. Talking over the phone or computer to others or practicing mindfulness are also positive ways to practice self-care.
Eat Healthily and Stay Active
Make sure that you and the person you are caring for are eating regularly and healthily to help with your mental state. Staying active regularly is also a great way to help manage the moods and feelings that you both are experiencing during this time.
Setting goals can be a helpful way to help both the person you are caregiving for and yourself get through a long day. Even goals like taking a shower every day or including physical exercise in your routine can help you remember the key things that need to get done when life gets overwhelming. Additionally, recognizing what you are grateful for, even though it may be hard at this time, can help shed a positive light on a difficult situation.
Create a Plan
Although it can be difficult to think about, it’s essential to come up with a backup plan on who will provide care for the person you are caregiving for, if you are unable to. This guide from the Ontario Caregiver Organization, provides a checklist to make it easier for you to put this plan together.
Take Advantage of this Time
If it is your parents you are caregiving for, use this time to ask them questions about how they achieved their goals or got where they are today. Share stories of family history and keep track of them. This will help you to create a family legacy and perhaps learn something new about yourself you may not have known. It also allows you to create something positive out of this difficult time, flipping the script on the hardships.
Protect from Scammers and Fraudsters
Along with protecting your health, vulnerable populations may also be at an increased risked for scammers and fraudsters. Scams and frauds that are circulating at this time are happening over the phone, text message, in-person or email. Refer to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre for the most up-to-date information on frauds and scams so you can protect yourself and the person you’re caring for.
Ask for Help
If possible, ask family members, friends or even neighbours to help you. Even if they can assist with tasks like running errands or picking up the groceries, while you stay with the person you are caring for, can help to relieve some stress.
If you need someone to talk to, we have redeployed staff here at CMHA to provide telephone-based supportive counselling during these times. This service is available Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. by calling 1-866-345-0183 (if this line is busy, please call 905-841-3977). You can also call the Ontario Caregiver Helpline at 1-833-416-2273 (CARE).
Organizations like the Ontario Caregiver Association are additionally offering Virtual Caregiver Support Groups, that can allow you to connect with others.
Below is a list of additional resources that may be helpful during this time:
- Donate to Support Family Caregiver Groups
- The Ontario Caregiver Association: How Technology Can Support Caregivers through COVID-19
- The Ontario Caregiver Association: What Caregivers Want Healthcare Providers and Healthcare Staff to Know
- The Ontario Caregiver Association: Caring for Seniors in Your Community
- The Ontario Caregiver Association: Caregiver Mental Health through the COVID-19 Outbreak
- The Ontario Caregiver Association: Caregiver Starter Kit
- Care Channel: How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout Video