Caregivers, Don’t Forget to Care for Yourselves

Infectious disease outbreaks can place considerable stress on caregivers

Infectious disease outbreaks like COVID-19 can place considerable stress on caregivers, many of whom play a vital role in the delivery of care — and information — to patients and their families, and within their communities. But it’s essential that caregivers remember to put their proverbial oxygen mask on first before caring for others.

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The following tips were adapted from an article published by the American Psychiatric Association, encouraging caregivers to prioritize their own health during this global health crisis.

Educate others on preventive measures

Hand washing, cough etiquette and social distancing are critical in preventing the spread of coronavirus. When appropriate, engage with patients, families, and with your social network to address misinformation. Perpetuating myths about the virus could have implications for accelerating transmission.

Stay as informed as possible

Rely on credible sources for guidelines and outbreak updates, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Also be mindful of new developments at state, regional and organizational levels. Having said that, monitor your own media exposure and find a balance that works. It’s very easy to get inundated with news. Consume enough to effectively manage care, but not so much that it begins to induce anxiety.

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Meet your basic needs

It goes without saying, taking care of yourself is essential to optimize your capacity to care for others. Now more than ever, make sure you are feeling balanced and well-fueled by eating and hydrating regularly, prioritizing good sleep hygiene and maintaining an exercise routine. Consider what healthy strategies keep you feeling your best.

Take breaks — at work and at home

Whenever it is reasonably possible, disconnect physically and mentally. Call a friend or family member, take a walk in your neighborhood or a lap at work. Start a new book or read an article that is unrelated to COVID-19. Find normalcy and comfort in everyday activities that are energizing and restorative — the work will still be there when you return, but you will be better equipped to handle it.

Check-in with yourself, and get help if you need it

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Take inventory of your stress level, and consider personal and professional resources. You don’t have to manage this stress alone. Talk to friends and family. Reach out to colleagues or your supervisor for support. Your organization may have an employee assistance program or can advise on community healthcare partners who are trained to help caregivers manage stress.

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Remember, your work is meaningful

Whether or not you are directly involved with managing care for infected patients, in times of crisis, caregivers are called on as leaders to promote public health, which can save lives. What you are doing matters. Above all, remember to be kind to yourself and recognize the contributions of your colleagues, other healthcare providers, and public health officials.

References and additional reading

Coronavirus and Mental Health: Taking Care of Ourselves During Infectious Disease Outbreaks. Accessed March 16, 2020.

Coronavirus and Emerging Infectious Disease Outbreaks Response. Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. Accessed March 16, 2020.