Caring for the Caregivers: Prioritizing Your Mental Health Right Now
Caring for the Caregivers: Prioritizing Your Mental Health Right Now
By Christopher Ciano, President, Aetna Medicare, and Sheryl Burke, Senior Vice President of Cross-Enterprise Strategic Innovation, Aetna Staff

Caregiving has taken on a whole new meaning over the past year. While it has always been a difficult, yet rewarding role to play, the COVID-19 pandemic required caregivers to think differently about caring for loved ones under physical distancing guidelines. The one in four baby boomers who are caregivers tended to others from afar due to visitor regulations at senior living facilities, inability to travel across state lines and overall caution not to spread the virus.

As caregivers to our respective parents, we experienced not only these challenges, but also the personal stress carried due to not being able to advocate for their care onsite and concern that they would face feelings of isolation and loneliness in addition to their physical health needs. On top of that, for many months, we could not see or hug our parents. There is no doubt, despite all that we know about these challenges, that the past year took a mental and emotional toll on not only our parents, but also us as caregivers.

Caregivers’ emotional toll

While taking care of a loved one, caregivers too often do not prioritize one critical element: caring for themselves. It is impossible to be an effective caregiver to a family member or friend without also being mentally and physically well, yet so many caregivers put the well-being of others far ahead of their own. In fact, according to recent data from CVS Health and Morning Consult, 57% of caregivers agree that they do not prioritize their own mental health because they are focused on taking care of others. Further, even though many caregivers could not be with their loved ones in-person during the pandemic, the responsibility of being a caregiver did not go away — 41% of caregivers say that the amount of time they spend providing care has increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we continue to reach higher levels of vaccination and the world begins to open back up, we encourage caregivers to take time to consider how this role impacts their well-being and prioritize their own total health. While it can be difficult at times to find a way, here are three tips for caregivers to care for their own health right now.

  1. Make “Me Time” Part of Your Routine: As we begin to figure out new routines following the pandemic, we’re able to enjoy some of the activities we missed over the past year. Whether it’s a new or old routine, setting aside time for yourself should remain a top priority. Caring for others often occupies so much of our time that we forgo hobbies, activities and socialization that bring us joy and allow us to destress. Setting healthy behaviors that help to manage stressors and prioritize well-being allows you to better care for your loved ones when you need to because you have taken time for your own wants and needs.
  2. Care for Yourself, Too: As our study showed, caregivers often set their own health aside because they are busy coordinating and managing care for loved ones. It’s important to remember that caring for your total well-being takes place both in the doctor’s office and outside of it in our daily lives. If you have forgone primary care or preventative care appointments, make time for these check-ups in the next few months. Additionally, consider ways that you can prioritize your health every day. For example, with 51% of caregivers saying that COVID-19 has reduced or negatively impacted their sleep schedules, committing to the same bedtime each night may be a first step in feeling energized and healthy the next morning. Taking steps to stay healthy can also be something you and those you care for do together once you’ve both been vaccinated. Consider taking a walk or being outside together as the weather warms up, schedule a weekly healthy dinner that you cook together or, if you live far away from one another, host a weekly family video call to stay connected.
  3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help: While many caregivers carry the weight of others on their shoulders, they don’t have to do it alone. You should feel comfortable asking for assistance when you need it — either from family members, friends or other care providers. When it comes to taking care of your own mental health, you are not alone either. Forty-four percent of caregivers are looking for anxiety and stress reduction techniques to help with their mental health needs, but many don’t know what resources are at their fingertips. Making a plan for your holistic health care starts by looking into local resources, such as regular face-to-face or virtual meetings with licensed clinical social workers through CVS Health HealthHUB™ locations or employee assistance programs through your employer-sponsored health plan, that can help you with the process. For example, Aetna health plans offer Resources For Living® consultants who are available to talk with you, help you cope with emotions you are feeling and come up with a roadmap of how to tackle your unique health needs.

Caring for a loved one is one of the most rewarding responsibilities in a person’s life. But with it also comes stressors and sometimes neglect of our own health, particularly in the past year as we all faced unique mental health hurdles brought on by the pandemic. As the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup. We know it can feel like adding another item to the proverbial to-do list, but we encourage people to take time to care for yourself and prioritize your own well-being. It is a critical component to showing up as the best caregiver you can be to your loved ones and yourself.


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