A news story on NPR this week featured Kitty Eisele, the host of Demented, a podcast about caring for her elderly father. She mentioned that one in five American adults currently provides unpaid care for an elderly or disabled family member. Having been in that position once before, I found myself temporarily in it again this past week when, despite those of us who were eligible being fully vaccinated, my family and I came down with COVID-19.
Thankfully, our symptoms were relatively mild, but as the last to get sick and one of the first to recover, I found myself in the wearying position of cleaning the house, providing meals and caring for the rest of my family while working from home. Even when caregiving is temporary, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, particularly when you are isolated, as we were while quarantined.
I was so grateful for those who asked how they could help and for the brave souls who donned facemasks to drop off sports drinks and pajama pants and other much needed items on our front porch or picnic table. As the days wore on and my energy wore thin, I rediscovered seven tried and true steps to help manage the stress of caregiving.
- Step outside. Sitting on my porch swing with a blanket, admiring the gold and orange leaves shimmering against the October sky helped me focus on something other than how tired I was.
- Call a friend. Even though I couldn’t invite anyone over, picking up the phone reminded me that I wasn’t alone.
- Share your needs. When someone asks how they can help, be honest and be specific. “Coffee,” I quickly said when one of our adult sons asked what we needed. Because I don’t often drink it, I’d forgotten to stock up.
- Schedule time for yourself. Even if it’s just curling up on the couch to stream an episode of a favorite TV show, as I did with Call the Midwife. Doing something simple that you enjoy can boost your mood and energy.
- Speaking of energy, prioritize sleep – often one of the first things to go when others need you, but also one of the most important to maintain your mental and physical health.
- Whenever possible, delegate tasks, like having children sort laundry or scheduling your groceries for pick-up, something I did as soon as I was free to leave the house.
- And last, but most important, sustain your spirit. As a wise priest once told me, “We aren’t human doings. We are human beings.” So, although you may busy doing things for others, make time to be in God’s presence. Read scripture. Pray, even just to tell God how weary you are. And connect with others who share your faith.
Whether from supporting someone with a temporary or chronic condition, most of us will experience being a caregiver. And if you know a caregiver, be the first to offer support.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. She is also the author of the fall-themed children’s picture book The Lantern Hill Light Parade and four other books celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith. Connect at www.meadowrue.com