May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and its timing seems more important than ever. The current pandemic has brought with it a number of stressors that can impact anyone. Whether it’s financial stress from a job loss or fear of the uncertainty or the virus itself, it can take a significant toll on your mental health. Likewise, isolation from your loved ones given social distancing practices can leave you feeling alone.
“Isolation is worsened,” says Sara Swinson, chaplain at the Visiting Nurse Association. “This deepening sense of disconnection can lead to feelings of alienation and even existential loneliness. It can be hard on anyone, but all of this could exacerbate a mental health illness that may already be at play.”
For seniors and caregivers, there are even more challenges. Caregivers are often overwhelmed as it is, but adding this new layer of complexity and a new threat to manage when it comes to caring for your loved one — whether it be your mother, father or grandparent — worsens it. With seniors in the high vulnerability category, the heightened hypervigilance it entails to stay well can be disequilibrating. “It’s hard to care give, but it’s even harder to care give in a pandemic,” says Sara.
It can also be challenging if a loved one is in a nursing home, leaving caregivers and family members to feel powerless, particularly as their older loved one may not completely understand the need for separation or change in usual routine. Beyond this, if you’ve experienced a loss — be it of a loved one or otherwise — you may struggle with disenfranchised grief, or the inability to publicly or fully mourn the loss, apart from the critical support you would usually lean on.
With all of this in mind, how can you care for your mental health? Here are some helpful practices you can integrate into your daily life.
Sometimes we get so caught up in caring for others that we forget to take the time to care for ourselves and our needs too. “The most basic things are often the most important,” says Christian Fox, an UMSL Doctor of Nursing Practice student at VNA. “Self care can be very practical — even just getting outside.” For you, self care may mean aromatherapy, music, art or prayer, among other things.
Times of silence or solitude can bring buried feelings to the surface. “Be curious, identify the feelings you’re experiencing and ask yourself why you might be feeling them,” says Sara. “That might mean journaling or talking with someone. The key is to show yourself compassion — and others — without judgement.”
Simply reaching out to your own support network can make a world of difference. Phone a friend and talk about how you’re feeling, and check in on them too. VNA’s Visit-A-Bit volunteers immediately transitioned to phone calls to keep communication going with seniors, and they have seen great success. “It’s been surprising how helpful those calls have been — and how long some of them are,” says Christian. “Continuing that friendship and conversation is really important, especially during times like these.”
If you’re struggling with your mental health, consider reaching out to a medical professional. For caregivers, read our guide to assessing a loved one’s mental health.