Even in the best of times, caring for an aging loved one can be a rewarding but challenging experience. With COVID-19, the emotional and physical demands placed on caregivers have dramatically increased. Family caregivers often must balance work, their children’s hybrid or virtual learning, and personal needs with their older adult caregiving duties.
Even more, for many people caregiving has become a new role during the pandemic. According to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs, 50% of new caregivers started providing care as a direct result of COVID-19. And several studies show that caregivers often take on this role in addition to other responsibilities. In fact, of the nearly three-in-ten U.S. adults that have a child younger than 18 at home, 12% also provide unpaid care for an adult.
For working caregivers, managing these additional responsibilities and navigating the pandemic can lead to stress, exhaustion and burnout, which can make it difficult to perform and focus at work and be there emotionally for people you love. Caregivers report experiencing clinically significant levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and many note a lack of support from employers. Research conducted by Home Instead, Inc., reveals that 75% of caregivers feel employers give parents more support to care for children than they give to people caring for an aging adult.
“As a caregiver, it can be easy to prioritize the well-being of others before yourself,” says Jisella Dolan, chief advocacy officer at Home Instead. “However, during these challenging times, it is necessary to take proactive steps to create a balanced caregiving plan that will benefit you and those you love.”
The role that a caregiver plays in an older adult’s life has become increasingly important during the pandemic; still, caregivers are experiencing heightened levels of stress due to the growing demand. Now more than ever, it is important to learn how to provide care for aging loved ones while navigating other responsibilities.
5 Tips for Working Family Caregivers Seeking Work/life Balance
- Be realistic. COVID-19 has placed a new set of emotional and physical demands on all of us – requiring many family caregivers to balance virtual learning and work from home while providing at-home care for an older adult. While you may have the best intentions for trying to do it all, it’s important to consider what’s manageable for you. Your needs are an important part of this picture.
- Talk with your employer. For caregivers, flexibility is of the utmost importance, including flexible work arrangements and paid leave. Be transparent with your workplace about the situation you are in. If you're worried your honesty could jeopardize your job, walk into the meeting with a plan to achieve the best work and family fit. What is necessary for success: Flexible work hours? Regular check-ins with management? By opening the door to a difficult discussion, chances are you’ll discover you’re not the only one at your company caring for an aging loved one.
- Prioritize self-care. Unfortunately, 63% of caregivers say that their caregiving duties make it more difficult to care for themselves. Even just a few mindful moments each day can help reduce feelings of stress or resentment. A quick walk around the block, a 30-minute music break or a three-minute deep breathing exercise on a meditation app can make all the difference. By taking time to tend to your own needs and acknowledge the challenges you might be facing, you can create an environment that is healthy and rewarding for every person involved.
- Discuss a backup plan. It’s hard to know what tomorrow will bring, especially during a global pandemic. By creating a short- and long-term plan, you can help ensure the proper care is in place, should you need to enlist an alternate caregiver. Assemble important documents such as your loved one’s power of attorney, health care proxy and bank information. Keep a record of emergency contacts and other key information to help reduce the stress of decision-making under pressure.
- Ask for help. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on even the most resilient family caregivers. Using resources or respite services doesn’t mean you have failed. In fact, asking for help can often be a gift to both yourself and your loved one. Check with your employer about any backup emergency care services your company might offer through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and consider joining an online care community to connect with other caregivers. You will be a better caregiver when you take moments to rest, eat healthy meals and lean on a support system.
It’s true what they say – you can’t provide quality care to others if you aren’t feeling your best. While finding the right work/life balance will look different for everyone, it is crucial to take stock of your own well-being when caring for those you love. Learn more about managing caring for a senior loved one as a working family caregiver.