Dr Ruth Watson is an Associate Practitioner with Dementia Carers Count. Dr Watson is a Clinical Psychologist who completed her doctorate in 2004, she also works as a Highly Specialist Clinical Psychologist within NHS Older Adult Mental Health services. She provides regular consultation to staff working on mental health wards, and Dementia liaison teams, regarding management of behavioural and psychosocial symptoms of dementia.
Recent events surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic have led to widespread feelings of anxiety and panic. Understandably the information we are learning about the virus may result in worries about our own health or the health of those around us. We have now been instructed to reduce our social interaction and spend our time at home, which is another challenge both physically and psychologically. As a carer this presents additional challenges whether you are with the person you care for, or if you are living separately to them.
Here are some ideas aimed to try and help you cope during this period of uncertainty:
· It’s ok to feel whatever you are feeling right now. In such an unusual situation, we will each respond with different emotions, and all are valid.
· Think about what is within your control, and what is outside your control. It is normal to feel anxious about the coronavirus pandemic, yet spending too much time focusing on things that are outside our control, is unhelpful to our mood. Try to bring your focus back to issues which you can do something about (e.g. what you do with your time, who you contact). Dr Russ Harris has written a really helpful approach to facing COVID. Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Approach.
· Limit the amount of news you watch. It can be tempting to constantly check for updates, especially when the headlines are dominated by frightening statistics. However this behaviour will keep us in ‘threat mode’ and prevent us feeling calmer and more in control. Try to restrict checking the news to once or twice each day. Only use social media sources which you find helpful to your mood, and ensure that the guidance you follow is accurate.
· Following your usual routine may be impossible, but it is helpful to establish some structure to your day. Plan tasks and activities to help break up the day. If possible, try to spend time in different rooms, and aim to incorporate some gentle exercise where possible. Explore ways to relax and be creative.
· Remember that despite being isolated, you are not alone. Try to remain in regular contact with friends/family by phone or video calling, and make contact with other carers who can understand how you are feeling.
· Practising regular meditation helps us to reduce our stress levels and build resilience – there are lots of potentially helpful apps available, but you can also try to just focus on your breathing.
· Keep your mind stimulated. If you have the opportunity to, challenge yourself with reading, puzzles and perhaps learning a new skill. There are numerous free online courses available. Try Future Learn.
· If anxiety is getting too much, do something to interrupt your anxious thoughts and distract yourself e.g. vacuum, write your thoughts down, listen to music, take a bath/shower, sing a song, listen to a podcast, create something, laugh, breathe, use a grounding technique, dance, call or text someone, tidy an area.
· Carers UK has some good advice about how to plan for your caring role during the potential risk of becoming unwell.
· Remember the skills and strength you already have. As a carer, you are already an expert at coping with stress and adapting to uncertainty. This might feel like a huge threat now, but it will pass.