Alexandra Drane — a serial entrepreneur and my friend and colleague — made an interesting remark on her Facebook page recently. “Almost overnight, the number of unpaid #caregivers has gone from 1 in 5 Americans, to anyone who cares for someone at risk for #COVID19,” she wrote. “That’s an incredibly large number of people. As in — maybe everyone.”
She made this remark in the context of a campaign to thank caregivers. After reading it a few times, it really starts to sink in that we’re all in this together.
If you’re new to caregiving, it can be frightening and overwhelming. So many people will try to offer you advice, and there’s so much information out there.
[SEE: How Does Coronavirus Spread?]
I asked a couple colleagues for some baseline advice that can help set the context for the journey ahead. Gincy Heins is a teacher, author and volunteer, as well as a caregiver and advocate for her husband, who was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment when he was 55. Gincy is one of the co-authors of “365 Caregiving Tips” and was an expert with our Caregiver Smile Summit.
Here’s guidance for new caregivers:
Don’t ‘Should’ on Yourself: Guilt Will Get You Nowhere
Gincy quotes a saying that has been floating around for years: “Don’t should on yourself.” As in, “I should do this” or “I should do that.” As one of her followers pointed out, “Should thinking is based on my projection of what other people are thinking. And so I say to myself, ‘They don’t get to vote! I’m doing the best I can. I’m not perfect, and imperfection is good enough for today.'” In other words, don’t beat yourself up.
Forget About Perfection
Gincy suggests that we give ourselves some grace and cut ourselves some slack. This is not an ideal or perfect situation and it is not the right time to hold yourself up to unrealistic standards. Mistakes will happen.
It’s OK to Improvise
Things happen on the fly when you are a family caregiver. You’re probably doing the best you can with the resources and information you have at this point. Things change quickly and you have to do your best to roll with them.
[See: Myths About Coronavirus.]
Reach Out for Help
Even if you’re the only child or a spouse taking care of your partner, there’s no need to do it alone. You can automate some of your caregiving, for example.
It’s OK to reach out to siblings and ask for help. Locally, look to your Area Agency on Aging and faith-based organizations for assistance programs. Avail yourself of company-sponsored caregiver benefits. I know you’re afraid to self-identify, but you’re not alone. One in 6 employees is a caregiver. Companies will only offer these programs if there is a demand for them from employees.
Choose a Happy Mindset
My colleague and friend John Leland is the author of “Happiness Is a Choice You Make.” At one point, John had a one-way relationship with his mom. She felt useless, and he was building up a debt that she could never repay. He thought he had to change her. He couldn’t. It forced him to figure out how to start appreciating what he was getting out of caring. Working to improve their relationship was a better goal for him. I always tell people to view caregiving as an opportunity. As his books alludes, John says we can choose to be happy. Some ways to do that include practicing cultivating gratitude and viewing your caregiving as a profound purpose.
I’ll add some things I’ve observed over time:
Take Care of Your Health
It’s scary, but many family caregivers predecease the one for whom they are caring. That happened with my sister. And when I became my mom’s sole caregiver, my physician started worrying about my stress levels. You have to be vigilant about good health.
[See: Coronavirus Prevention Steps That Do or Do Not Work.]
Make Time for Yourself
Make an active effort to maintain your social network. It’ll help you during and after your caregiving journey. Schedule time on your calendar for exercise, taking a walk and talking to a friend.
Anthony Cirillo is Global Practice Partner of GIS Healthcare, a provider of caregiver and related solutions to corporations and health providers. He is also the creator of the Caregiver Smile Summit. A health and aging expert, professional speaker and media influencer, Cirillo is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives with a Masters from the University of Pennsylvania. His consulting and speaking expertise serves a worldwide clientele including Cleveland Clinic, King Faisal Hospital, Atrium Health and Wall Street startups. He is a member of the Nationwide Financial/NCOA Health and Wellness Roundtable and a member of the Bank of America Elder Care Policy Roundtable. Contact him at [email protected]