Caregiver self-care: Tips to help address your emotional health

(BPT) - Caregiving for a loved one can put a strain on even the most resilient people. Add in the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic and it has the potential to feel challenging. This means that finding ways to thrive and continue to take care of your own well-being is more important than ever.

It can be hard to cope at times, and some of the outlets you may have used in the past to handle stress may not be available or ideal during social distancing. Fortunately, there are several resources that may help you take care of your emotional health while also keeping safety top of mind.

Recognize how you’re feeling

No matter what your particular situation might be, caregiving may take a toll on your physical, mental and emotional well-being. The Family Caregiver Alliance encourages you to express and try to address all of your emotions, especially the tough ones. Try to identify the emotions you’re experiencing; this might include everything from fear, to guilt, to resentment. It’s important to remember that these emotions are normal and not something to be ashamed of.

Take action

To be an effective caregiver, taking care of your own needs, both physical and emotional, is essential. There are several tools and resources available to help you maintain your own well-being and make time for self-care:

  • Virtual mental health visits. Consider scheduling a virtual visit with a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. If you already see a mental health provider, contact him or her to see if you can continue sessions online or over the phone. You can also get support by speaking to a trained counselor at SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUS to 66746. Or download the Sanvello app on your phone, which has plenty of resources for taking care of yourself.
  • Take advantage of free exercise programs. Exercise may be a great way to destress and improve your mood. At-home workout resources are plentiful these days — including live-streamed classes and complimentary app trials. They’re all available online, often at no extra cost.
  • Create and follow a healthy daily routine. Keep your schedule consistent when it comes to meals and bedtime. Get enough sleep, aiming for seven to nine hours a night, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Maintain a healthy diet and try to stay active with walks, yoga, gardening or other activities that allow you to practice social distancing. Carve out time during the day to focus on your breathing, stretch or meditate.
  • Stay informed. Knowing important information about the outbreak and learning how to be prepared may reduce stress and help calm anxieties. However, too much exposure to news coverage may lead to greater feelings of anxiety or panic. Try to limit your research to reliable sources, such as the CDC and the World Health Organization. And keep up with recommendations from your local public health authorities.
  • Talk to your loved one. Chances are, the person you’re caring for may have similar feelings and fears. The Mental Health Foundation says, “talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s part of taking charge of your well-being and doing what you can to stay healthy.”

If stress gets in the way of your daily activities for an extended period of time (defined as several days in a row), the CDC recommends calling your health care provider.

If you want to get more helpful resources on caregiving, you can also visit the UnitedHealthcare caregiving website at https://www.uhc.com/caregiving.