Self-Care During Lockdown
Everyday there are thousands of caregivers in the US that are struggling with their own feelings, their own needs, along with their stress and anxiety, in helping to care for loved ones who need full time care. A common misconception is that volunteer hospices, like Sierra Hospice, are solely focused on the hospice patient. While we are, of course, here to help them and to make them comfortable, we are also here to help the families, friends, and everyone else who is being affected during this time. We want to empower and help the caregivers so that they are better able to help those people that need their help. Caregiving is a full-time job and can take a massive emotional and physical toll. It isn’t always obvious that this is happening in the moment, yet the cumulative effects of it can be staggering overtime.
With the coronavirus epidemic still disrupting almost every aspect of normal public and private life, it is now more important than ever to understand the importance of self-care when you are isolated and caregiving. It may almost feel selfish to be worrying about yourself as you are helping a person who may be dying, yet if you are not at 100% then you are not able to help them as much as they may need. Taking care of yourself so that you can be there when the other person needs you is critical not just for caregivers but for anyone doing any sort of long-term medical care. Caring for others takes time, it raises stress, and it spurs on anxiety. Learning to recognize and advert those symptoms can help you both feel better and do better over these longer stretches. Below is a short guide that we hope will be useful in making sure that our amazing caregivers are realizing that they, sometimes, need a little care themselves as well.
Recognize if you are feeling not like yourself
This may sound broad and hard to quantify, but it simply means notice if you are off in some way. Are you more forgetful than normal? You might notice you keep misplacing items or forgetting to respond to a text or phone call until days later when that isn’t normal for you. Are you eating more or less? Or just less healthfully? Food is a comfort, but when we are depressed or anxious we may lose our appetites. We could, of course, go the other way and eat way more than is normal for us. Do things make you more angry or agitated? Everyone gets angry or agitated from time to time, it is just part of what makes us human. But if you have been getting more easily flustered more recently, or if you are having other symptoms above, or are otherwise noticing changes in your mood or behavior, then you may be now recognizing that you are not feeling like yourself.
Self-care is not selfish
If you do notice that you need to take care of yourself a bit more, or a bit better, then a common thought many people have is that this is somehow selfish. Yet just like we would not want a surgeon to show up if they were ill, we can’t expect a caregiver to be at their best to assist another person if they are struggling to keep themselves going. If you notice that you are not feeling like yourself, or worse feel like you may be heading towards burnout, then taking time to care for yourself is the least selfish thing you can do as it allows you to more quickly get back up to full strength and be back for the one you are caring for more quickly. Once someone has accepted that they are ready to move on to the sort of things that can help them to recover and recuperate.
Sierra Hospice is located in Chester, CA which is inside the Plumas National Forest. We have an abundance of riches in terms of calming outdoor activities within moments of our homes. For caregivers under normal circumstances it can be a challenge to get out of the home for a walk or breath of fresh air anyway, during these shelter-in-place orders it can be even harder. If the person you are caring for can be safely left by themselves for a short time still then going for a walk, or even a drive, taking in some of the sights, sounds, and smells of spring can be incredibly helpful to our mental health. 15 minutes may be all you can spare, but you should make that time sacred and use it to find a calming, relaxing way of existing for a few minutes.
If you cannot get outside, or if the weather chooses not to cooperate, finding a place inside that is free from distractions that will allow you to simple sit and relax for a few minutes can be almost as helpful as getting out of the house. Take deep breaths and try to focus your mind not on concerns or stresses but simply on your breathing or what is in front of you in the room. This is a mindfulness technique that can be great for a quick way to reduce stress and anxiety. There is a breathing technique can be amazingly effective as well and is very, very simple:
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of 7
- Hold your breathe for a count of 5
- Breath out through your mouth for a count of 9
- Repeat as many times as you need
I will admit that the shelter-in-place order has been horrendous for my personal eating habits. Being at home so much of the time and wanting to limit exposure to the rest of the world means that I end up stocking up on breads and crackers and sugary items that then get eaten way too quickly. Indulging from time to time, especially when you are at an increase in stress or anxiety, can be a good outlet as food is a comfort, yet overdoing it can lead not just to physical issues but emotional ones as well. Eating too much unhealthy food can make you feel drained and lethargic. Eating as fresh and healthy of food as you can can be a major boost to both your energy and your mood. During the shelter-in-place you may find it difficult to find as much fresh food, but frozen vegetables are frozen fresh and are just as healthy as the never frozen kinds. Making a plan, and sticking to it, to eat healthy can increase your chances of staying in a routine where you are eating better and feeling better.
Yes, eating healthy and exercise are both essential parts of self-care. And, if you are like me, you’ve always known this but of course it is easy to hope for something else less obvious that will make us feel better. But exercising doesn’t have to be a major chore. Find a few minutes a day do some sort of exercise in the home. You may not have a home gym but you might have stairs you can walk or run up and down, you can try push-ups, sit-ups, wall sits, jumping jacks, or simply walking around in circles if you can’t leave the house. The best exercise is one that you will do everyday, so try different things and see what works for you. If you are having trouble getting started just aim to slightly increase it each day, for example aim to do one-minute of exercise the first day, 2 the second, 3 the third, etc. and eventually your body will get used to it and it will become part of the routine and can really make a difference in reducing stress and increasing your mood.
It is very possible to end up on a computer, phone, tv, or other device pretty much all day, especially when caregiving and for sure during a shelter-in-place. While these are great for entertaining, informing, and connecting us, they can lead to disruptions in our moods overtime from engaging with electronic screens most of our waking hours. If you are using devices most of your day, find an hour each day to turn everything off. If you can’t start at an hour start a few minutes at a time and work your way up. To be clear this doesn’t mean having the TV on in the background while you work on something else for an hour, things should be off all the way during this time. The person you are caring for may want to have something on whenever they are awake, and so you may not be able to turn everything in the house off all the way, but having things off in your area, not checking your phone, trying not to think of anything on a computer or TV for a time, can be greatly beneficial and allow our brains to sort of ‘reboot’ for a moment and get ideas and thoughts flowing normally again.
The last thing that all caregivers should look into for self-care is to find a hobby of some sort. Artistic endeavors are great; painting, writing, sculpting, etc. Learning an instrument can be a great at-home project. Knitting, sewing, crafting, or otherwise creating in the home can be an amazing amount of enjoyment and all of these things are things you can do while still being able to stop and help the person you are caring for at a moments notice. Hobbies are not only enjoyable to do, but they give us a sense of purpose and productivity throughout our day that creates a sense of fulfillment you may be missing in the day-to-day events of taking care of someone.
Give yourself a break
If someone else can come over and provide respite care during the shelter-in-place and is willing to do that then, yes, take a real, actual break. If this isn’t possible then just give yourself a break – meaning think of what you would say to someone else in your situation, things like:
“You are doing a great job, even though it seems really, really hard” or “You shouldn’t worry so much,” or “You are pretty damn awesome, why are you being so hard on yourself?”
These, of course, are just examples. But do give yourself a break, if you are caring for someone else you are giving so much of yourself to the process and probably feeling bad that you don’t always have more to give. So give yourself a break.
Talk to someone
The final piece of advice I will leave you with is the reminder that it is always okay to talk to someone about what you are going through. You may always contact Sierra Hospice, even if you or your loved on is not a patient, and we are happy to talk. There are social lines, crisis lines, and other resources that are free and available to anyone. There are online support groups and a variety of different ways to reach out, including getting professional help, if you feel that is something you could benefit for, over the phone or by video calls. Of course sometimes the most obvious answer is to call and talk to someone you are already comfortable talking to about other things. Often times people say they do not wish to ‘burden’ others with what they are going through, but just telling someone else what you are going through is usually a major lift from your shoulders and, frankly, doesn’t have too much of a negative impact on the other person. Talking to them may make you feel better by a huge amount and they can listen and understand but won’t take on your burden so much as allow you to remove that burden from yourself. So don’t be afraid to talk to someone, to share, to open up a little. It’s really truly amazing how much improvement to your mood one good conversation can have.