Care for Caregivers: Tips and Resources for Unsung Heroes

Adapted from the King County Balanced You blog

A caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need, such as an ill spouse or partner, a disabled child, or an aging relative. Caregivers for adults and elders are some of the unsung heroes of the pandemic. While caregiving can be joyful and rewarding, it can also be overwhelming or stressful for even the most resilient people. The pandemic, which has increased social isolation and decreased or changed availability of social services, has made the role of caregiving even more challenging.

study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found unpaid adult caregivers are so stressed, they are experiencing disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal thoughts. Please read below for tips and resources to help you attend to your own emotional well-being and support your caregiving efforts.

Signs of caregiver stress

As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried.
  • Feeling tired often.
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry.
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  • Feeling sad.
  • Having frequent headaches, bodily pain, or other physical problems.
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications.

Tips for taking care of yourself

If you’re experiencing any of the signs of caregiver stress, there are steps you can take to lessen the stress you are experiencing. Consider the following:

  • Connect with others. Research caregiving resources in your community. There may be support groups designed for caregivers of people with the same diagnosis or circumstances as the person you’re caring for. 
  • Accept help. Remember you are only one person. Invite others to help you and accept offers of assistance. If you have trouble answering the question “what can I do to help you?,” consider making a list of acts that would be helpful – such as help with dinner, cooking, or errands – and letting others choose what they’d like to do.
  • Seek social support. Reach out to friends and loved ones. Make time for fun, joy, and decompression with others. If you find you are spending less time than you’d like with friends and loved ones, intentionally schedule time to hang out – virtually or safely in person- at least once a week.
  • Remember to attend to your own physical needs. Try and find time for movement every day, focus on foods that make you feel good, and remember to hydrate with water or herbal teas.
  • Rest. Rest is one of the most important aspects of self-care. Strive for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and listen to your body; some days you may need more.
  • Focus on your mental health. Your mental health is important. Take intentional steps to prioritize your mental health during this time, by continuing practices you know work for you, or considering some of the mental health resources listed below.

Respite care

Sometimes finding someone else to care for your loved one is the best thing you can do for your well-being and the well-being of the person you’re caring for. Consider the following options:

  • In-home respite. Healthcare aides come to your home to provide companionship, nursing services, or both.
  • Adult care centers and programs. Some centers provide care for both older adults and young children, and the two groups may spend time together.
  • Short-term nursing homes. Some assisted living homes, memory care homes and nursing homes accept people needing care for short stays while caregivers are away.

Support and counseling

If you could use help locating respite care, or if you or someone in your family would benefit from mental health support, check out the resources below.

  • A list of Community Mental Health Resources helps connect King County residents to 24/7 emotional support resources, ways to connect to a counselor, and information for both people living with a mental health condition and their family members and caregivers. 
  • Washington Listens is a program to support anyone in Washington experiencing stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic or any of the events that have occurred because of it. Call 1-833-681-0211, Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. TTY and language access services are available.
  • Crisis Connections provides many resources and support for anxiety, loneliness, recovery, and more. Language interpretation in more than 155 languages is available. Call 866-427-4747 or text HOME to 741741 for support.

Additional resources and mental health resources can be found on Washington State Coronavirus resources website.

Originally posted on October 27, 2020.