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How to Find Respite as a Caregiver During COVID-19

By Julie Hayes | 09/14/2020

A caregiver relaxing under a blanket with a book and cup of tea

Carving out time in our day dedicated to ourselves with no outside distractions is challenging enough during the best of times. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these distractions are coming from inside—and with ‘inside’ being the safest location to be, it may feel next to impossible to get away from them. Those who are sandwich generation caregivers may be juggling work tasks with 24/7 parenting and managing the care of an older loved one, leaving no moments of the day set aside for personal time and self-care. For others, loved ones may need more frequent support if their adult day programming or senior center activities are still canceled or reduced. Or, many of us may simply be struggling to find avenues of self-care and respite when the relaxing activities we previously enjoyed—going to the spa, scheduling a vacation—may not be as simple as they once were.

In times of crisis, it may seem like respite is a secondary concern, or even a selfish desire. When everyone is collectively struggling, it can seem wrong to prioritize our individual needs. However, the reality is that caring for our mental health is more important than ever given these stressful circumstances. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, about 53 percent of adults feel that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and many have experienced negative effects like difficulty sleeping, difficulty eating and increased reliance on alcohol. 

Research shows that respite can reduce negative effects to mental health like burnout, stress and exhaustion while improving the quality of both our caregiving and our relationship with a loved one. Respite also gives us moments to focus on ourselves during times when we’re overwhelmed by the needs of others. And though it has become more challenging, respite is still possible during the pandemic. Here are just a few ways to make it happen:

1. Explore ARCH National Respite Network’s COVID-19 Respite Database

The ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center was created to help family caregivers locate respite and crisis care services, and is continuing to provide respite resources and support during COVID-19. Their database includes information and tips from numerous caregiver organizations, as well as disease-specific resources and updates from State Respite Coalitions.

2. Set aside a place in the home to take breaks

If the weather is nice and we’re able to leave the house for a walk or a bike ride, we should do so! But if weather doesn’t permit or our circumstances don’t allow for us to leave the home, it helps to adapt the home to our respite needs.

One way is by selecting a room in the house we can go to for moments of privacy. It helps to choose a room that we don’t associate with working at home or caregiving, as we may not be able to fully relax in a ‘work’ environment. We can time our use of this room for when children or older loved ones are occupied with other tasks or napping. We can then go there to take a breath, meditate, listen to music, do a quick exercise routine, read a book or work on a personal project we enjoy. We should leave our concerns at the door and enjoy the time we have to ourselves while it’s ours to have.

3. Adapt our self-care practices

COVID-19 has taught us all how to adapt in many ways, and we may need to do the same with our self-care routines. Even though many businesses are reopening, alternatives may still be a safer bet, especially if we’re trying to limit our potential exposure to the virus so we can provide face-to-face care to a loved one.

If we enjoy going to the nail salon, we can consider watching YouTube manicure tutorials. We can try an online book club, or find a forum where we can discuss whatever’s on our mind, whether it be parenting tips or our thoughts on our favorite TV show.

4. Prepare a backup plan—while following guidelines

There may be days when we can’t do it alone, and that’s completely understandable. But before those days come, it helps to have a plan in place as to who’s going to step up and help us, especially if special precautions need to be taken to bring in backup.

If we’re long-distance caregiving, we may be able to turn to family and friends we relied on before COVID-19 to digitally check in on a loved one. However, if we’ve been providing in-person care, we may need to explore our network for someone with limited exposure to the general public who can safely enter a loved one’s home. They would also need to be willing to follow guidelines about handwashing, proper mask usage and general sanitation.

For maximum safety, it may be most effective to schedule our days off so that the secondary caregiver can self-isolate for the CDC recommended two weeks prior to coming in to help a loved one. 

5. Ask for the kind of help we need, when we need it

According to emergency responders, one of the worst things we can do in a crisis is nothing. By denying ourselves help when we need it, we may be endangering our own wellbeing and our ability to respond to a loved one’s needs.

We should consider the help we need and then find resources to answer it. If our mental health is suffering, we can call a hotline and talk to someone about what we’re feeling. If we don’t know how to provide a loved one with the care they need, we can look into care coordination services like WeCare…Because You Do or contact an Eldercare Locator information specialist from the U.S. Administration on Aging at 1-800-677-1116. We can also schedule a family meeting to discuss caregiving roles if we’re feeling overwhelmed.

We should always remember that our needs matter, too, and it’s not selfish to take care of ourselves.

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