Caring for Your Loved Ones and Your Mental Health: Being a Caregiver During the Pandemic

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Elle Love
SENIOR ONLINE REPORTER

Caregiving takes plenty of time and energy, so remember to also take care of yourself. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

As I work towards graduating after five years of attending college, there are several factors that I learned that many of us will eventually face in our next stage of life as adults. Eventually, we will contribute to our society in many areas of occupation that we’ve studied for, worked for, or for survival, and many of the connections we’ve made in college will either stick with you or naturally become distant. For me and some of you, we will soon have to take care of our loved ones who got us to where we need to be.

Becoming a caregiver is not an easy task many of us can handle, especially if it occurs during a global pandemic where you see many people mourn the loved ones taken by the deadly virus.

However, I would do whatever it takes to care for my dad even if it means I have to inform myself on what I can do to better assist him while keeping in mind that I’m on the spectrum and still adjusting to rapid changes in my life.

My father was a very generous and hardworking man. Growing up with him, he would offer his help whenever he was given the opportunity whether it’s cleaning the gutters for my former elderly neighbor or even mow the lawn for them. As a bus driver, he was willing to take extra routes scheduled at night time to take kids to their afterschool programs or their sports games for almost 5 years. Over those years, I noticed how his selflessness can eventually wear on him where he starts sleeping in more after work and during his break.

Around December and January was when his health started to decline as I was informing myself about the novel coronavirus that many of us were unaware of how deadly and catastrophic COVID-19 would be a year later.

When I started taking care of my dad in the Fall of 2020, he was slowly losing breath doing little things such as walking a few feet or even climbing up the stairs. There were numerous times he was exposed to the virus even when he has followed CDC guidelines strict to the code.

There were some days where he would genuinely feel better while there were others where I would have to physically lift him off the ground as he was crying in pain after nearly not making it to the bathroom.

Seeing many news stories about family members of loved ones sharing their memories of their loved ones left me feeling not only sad but anxious about my father because of his high-risk condition.

With my mind clouded, I didn’t have a clear enough head or was in the right mental state to be ready to take the caregiver role. I didn’t feel ready, but I wanted to do what I could to help him.

For students like me, it can be difficult to balance between caring for your loved one while maintaining a functioning work and school schedule. 7 in 10 students say caring for a loved one affects their academic performance, the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) reports. The same report states that about 1 in 3 students have difficulty meeting deadlines or attendance requirements and 86% of student caregivers work at least part time, which can add to mental strain.

From my experience, I would like to share a few tips I would like to share to help many first-time and current caregivers my age and older.

Keep your advisors and professors in a loop

Email your professor about your situation as soon as you can. If you are concerned about oversharing your loved one’s information, you can simply let them know that you are caring for a loved one and keep them up to date on any scheduling issues you may run into in the future.

Bring friends and family together to discuss care

Create a group chat or inform other trusted family members about strategies and necessities needed to help take care of your loved ones. I have kept in contact with various family members to help me regarding transportation. Family support can greatly help lift off some of the tasks that you may not be able to do alone.

Learn specific skills you may need to care for someone with a diagnosis

Talk with your loved one’s physician. Taking care of a loved one with dementia is different from taking care of someone with a chronic heart disease. There are specific instructions regarding pill regimen, dietary restrictions and how to make accommodations in the environment for their comfortability.

Find a Caregiving Support Group to Join

It’s always beneficial to connect with others that can share similar experiences. It provides a sense of security for me to know that I am not alone and that if I needed advice on what to do, there will be others that can help provide solutions and clarity to the situations I face first hand. People will want to help you and in return, you can help others for guidance, clarity, and support. There are plenty of groups on all social media platforms, especially Facebook and Instagram. However, please respect the rules that are provided to create a healthy safe online community to support others.

Take a Break

Caregiving can be an emotionally taxing job, especially when you are constantly reminded about your loved one’s declining health.It takes a toll on your energy and your state of mind. When you feel yourself burning out from mental and physical exhaustion, take a break for at least an hour or two to decompress by doing activities you would like to do in your leisure. Whether it’s enjoying your movie, reading a book, meditating, or even taking a quick nap, You will have time to conserve your energy so you can continue to take care of your loved one in your best state.

Practice Self Care for Yourself

Although your focus is solely on the care of your loved one, don’t leave yourself out of the equation. Make sure you schedule yourself plenty of rest and a daily hygiene routine to keep yourself in balance and in order. A helpful way to keep yourself on the nose is to record specific times in the day that you are able to do and stick to it if you can. However, do not beat yourself up if your body is telling you that you need to rest. Your mental health is just as important. A clear head can get things done effectively.

Caregiving takes plenty of patience, time and energy. It can also weigh on you emotionally, and you’re valid for feeling strong emotions towards this change in you and your loved one’s life. However, I share this story with you to stand in solidarity with my audience and let you know that you aren’t alone and that there are plenty of resources provided that not only helped me but will help you.

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