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Tips and resources to avoid caregiver burnout

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Since the COVID-19 outbreak, restrictions in daily activities and social interactions have caused a major shift in caregiving roles and responsibilities. Many people have found themselves acting as a full-time caregiver for the first time. Parents and guardians are teaching lessons at home for school-age children. Adults with aging parents or relatives need support with routine activities unlike ever before. Those living with someone who has a disability are filling in to ensure health and well-being are not compromised while in-home care is not an option.

Being a caregiver is both rewarding and demanding. Because it requires considerable patience, energy and empathy, it is easy to become overwhelmed and forget about self-care. This is especially true for caregivers of people with disabilities. The National Alliance for Caregiving reports approximately 39.8 million caregivers provide care to adults (aged 18+) with a disability or illness. According to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, 5.5 million are caring for U.S. military veterans, 20% of whom have paralysis or spinal cord injury.

Paralyzed Veterans of America, a service organization that advocates for veterans who have experienced a spinal cord injury or disease such as MS or ALS, has developed a webpage dedicated to providing resources for coping with COVID-19, pva.org/covid-19, including tips for caregivers to avoid burnout.

“If you are experiencing undue stress, or if you notice that a loved one, friend or associate is overly anxious, stressed or worried, it’s important to acknowledge it and take appropriate steps to improve health,” said Katelyn Johnson, RN associate director of medical services of PVA.

Sheltering in place helps stop the spread of the coronavirus, but lack of social engagement and outside routines can lead to feelings of helplessness, isolation and loneliness. This applies to caregivers too, who now have fewer options to take breaks from their responsibilities. Naturally, this can lead to an increase in stress, particularly for those who are new to caregiving.

Since your stress levels may be higher during this time, it is important to be aware of signs of burnout such as:

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  • Feeling emotionally or physically exhausted
  • Struggling to cope
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Feeling blue, irritable, listless, worried or sad
  • Changes in appetite, weight or both
  • Changes in sleep
  • Getting sick more often
  • Having headaches or body aches often
  • Feeling alone, isolated or deserted by others

These are all natural, valid feelings and may be more prevalent during the current times. But, there are steps you can take for yourself as you care for others:

  • Be intentional with how you’re spending your time. Structure your day to maximize positive activities and set goals that are achievable.
  • Limit time viewing reports on TV and social media. Constantly hearing often sensationalized reports isn’t helpful and can be very upsetting.
  • Prioritize your health. Get plenty of sleep. Eat a nutritious diet. Stay well hydrated. Exercise every day.
  • Mindfulness and meditation are good methods to alleviate stress.
  • Discuss your concerns with people you trust to give you good advice.

You can also try spending a little time outdoors each day. Even if just for a few minutes, there are many benefits to being outside.

Keep your mind occupied by working on free coursework, listening to audiobooks, watching virtual concerts and plays, touring museums online, or calling or writing friends and loved ones. There are many online videos and apps with meditation or mindfulness exercises that can help relieve stress.

If you find yourself or someone you know struggling with increased anxiety, depression or other psychological symptoms, there are a number of resources available at pva.org/covid-19. The page includes links and phone numbers for mental health professionals, peer-to-peer support and self-help strategies.

PVA is committed to the health and well-being of all caregivers, veterans and people with disabilities. Visit pva.org to learn more.

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