Mental health & Covid-19: Looking after your well-being as a carer during coronavirus

31/03/2020

You may have heard about the importance of ‘caring for the carer’, it’s a common term to remind people about how carers also need their well-being to be monitored and nourished. 

For many people, caring responsibilities may add to the worry and pressure of the Covid-19 outbread, especially when those you care for are an at risk group. Previous research has found that carers experience more social isolation and lower quality of life than the general population  (Hayes et al., 2015). The level of support required to care for someone with different mental and physical health needs can take a toll on the well-being of carers, which can in turn also impact the quality of care they can provide. It can also be challenging to find the time to do the things that you enjoy and help you boost your well-being, especially as your responsibilities progress towards full-time care when staying at home. These considerations may be even more challenging during the Covid-19 outbreak, and may required addition attention to maintain well-being. Have you thought about any of the tips below to boost your well-being while managing your caring responsibilities.

 

Mindfulness

While it may feel counterintuitive, taking the time to put the future aside and exist purely in the moment can greatly improve your ability to engage in the work you are doing and keep stress at bay. Practicing mindfulness will help you better understand your own feelings and stay grounded.

  • Try doing short guided meditation – apps such as headspace and calm have short programs under 10 minutes to help you stay connected to the moment and clear your mind. 
  • Keep a journal – Creative practices have generally been found to improve well-being (Rieger et al., 2018). Whether you like to reflect on the events of the day, write creatively, or create some art, journals are a great way to embed creativity in your life when you’re pressed for time!

You can also use this resource for more information – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/

Exercise

Depending on your caring responsibilities and current situation, it might be difficult to find the time or place to go out for exercise. Learning a few simple and short exercise routines can help keep you energised and healthy, and it can be a great way to also keep the person you are caring for healthy.

  • Take advantage of exercising outdoors (safely) if possible! – Engaging in physical activity while getting some sunlight and fresh air can greatly benefit your own well-being (Coon et al., 2012), as well as the well-being of the person you are caring for.
  • Do a short at home workout – You can find some great at home workouts, including some for lower energy days, on the NHS website. Early morning often works best for a lot of people to energise them for the rest of the day.

 

Stay connected

Regardless of caring responsibilities, having to spend the days on lockdown can be very isolating. It is important that you build and maintain a good social support network to lean on and ask for help if you feel overwhelmed.

  • Keep in touch with family and friends – Finding the time to reach out to family and friends can help reduce the anxiety of not knowing how they are doing, and give you an outlet to share your feelings and receive moral support. During these difficult times in isolation, there are some apps which can help you stay connected to friends and family such as Zoom, Teams or Houseparty, which allow for video calls with multiple participants. 
  • Join an online support group – Sometimes you might need an outlet to discuss your feelings and seek for advice from others in the same situation. Carers UK has an online discussion forum where you can connect with other carers to talk about various topics.

 

Setting boundaries

The most important thing during times of uncertainty is that you make time for your own well-being. Being able to set clear and specific times for your caring responsibilities alongside other things in your life will help you stay more productive and engaged in the upcoming weeks.

  • Organise your time – Having a routine and a clear action plan can help reduce your anxiety and improve your productivity, particularly when you are also working/studying alongside your role as a carer. This includes scheduling in breaks and incorporating time for self-care, even if it is 10 minutes on a daily basis to keep you motivated.
  • Ask for help – You don’t have to do this alone! It is perfectly normal and valid to feel overwhelmed or unable to help sometimes. Reaching out to support services, healthcare professionals, friends and family can help you share the responsibility and be able to provide the best care you can. 
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep – Sleep is essential for your mental well-being, so make sure you are prioritising getting enough of it. If you are struggling to get to sleep there are some non addictive but very effective sleep aids such as Nytol or Promethazine.

 

Help for carers

Making sure you have the right support around you is also an essential step to maintaining your well-being. There are a range of UK support services for carers that can offer support and advice to help address any concerns you may have. Sometimes, it is also a great relief to have someone out of your circle to simply listen to what you have to say. Talking about your feelings is one of the best ways to cater for your mental well-being. Discover more mental health support services below.

 

  • Leading charities, such as AgeUK and carersUK, offer online support for those looking after loved ones. They have advice on a variety of topics which may concern you, such as carer allowance and financial support.
  • AgeUK also offers specific support if you are looking after someone with dementia.
  • Use the services available to you from charities, such as Mind, to keep your mental health and well-being positive.

 

The role of a carer is crucial for supporting and improving the outcomes of individuals with different health needs, which is why now more than ever it is essential that you put your own well-being at the forefront of your work. You can find more information and support for your mental health as a carer with Mind,  a mental health charity.

 

This article is based on current scientific evidence and clinical expertise of our mental health professionals and researchers at Maudsley Learning, South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London.

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