The Impact of Pandemic Caregiving in Long Term Care: Self-Care – Now vs. Later…by Regina Franklin-Basye
A favorite memory possessed by many is the innocence of childhood. The simplicity of playtime and connecting with others also includes the memory of candy and other treats. “Now or Later” is a sweet treat that has been around since 1919. The theme suggests the enjoyment of candy now, or even saving some of it for later. The same theme of ‘now or later’ can be applied to our associates providing care and other services in the long-term care profession.
The sudden thrust of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring of 2020, impacted every aspect of our human lives, every profession and industry. As we prepared to set our clocks forward, COVID-19 stopped us in our tracks. The initial messages by world scientists, epidemiologists and physicians around the globe was to “flatten the curve”. After a proposed two week social-distancing effort, and once new infections and deaths would become minimal, the hope was to resume ‘normal’ life and for long term care, normal operations. As we quickly discovered, COVID-19 would not go away so easily. This realization coupled with the continuous “unknown” and constantly changing guidance created an unstable and even more unpredictable work-load and atmosphere. While caregivers made numerous and what seemed to be unending sacrifices to protect our precious population, the lack of or simple ability to prioritize self-care became a concurrent blow to the health of our staff and leadership.
With increased regulations, increased caregiving and labor expenses, caregiving hours were extended to care for our nation’s frail elderly and other cohorts confined to our facilities. The art of caregiving has changed and employees have found themselves at times beyond their limits. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic into a still fractured and forever changed work environment, it is time to focus on caring for ourselves, NOW. Waiting until LATER may have devastating effects. While the pandemic still isn’t over, it is time to resume and practice more diligently the notion of SELF-CARE. We need to ask ourselves- “should we care for ourselves NOW, or will we suffer the consequences LATER for the lack of our own prioritization?”.
As a result of the April 2020 suicide of Dr. Lorna Breen, the Medical Director of Presbyterian Hospital’s Emergency Room in New York, the Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Provider Protection Act was passed and signed into legislation by President Joe Biden. This act helps support healthcare employees who may experience overwhelming fatigue, depression, or any other symptoms as a result of working extended shifts or other challenging aspects of caregiving. Her family worked tirelessly to start this new legislation in hopes of saving lives of other healthcare employees. KNOW YOU ARE NOT ALONE, AND THAT SUPPORT MEASURES ARE IN PLACE FOR THOSE WHO NEED HELP!
The importance of self-care is a collection of approaches including nutrition, exercise and setting boundaries for personal time. As the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup!” Taking time to care for ourselves NOW will ensure we can have “full cups” to “pour” into our residents and facilities!
Tips to achieve optimum self-care:
- Exercise: regularly scheduled routines for healthy living, staying fit and for increasing mood and energy levels. The release of endorphins is a MOOD BOOSTER. (Yoga, cardio, cycling, running, etc.)
- Nutritious meals: Add color to your plate. The more color, the healthier the meal.
- Explore vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to boost immune system and general health.
- Regular doctor appointments and scheduling of specialty visits as needed. Don’t cancel your appointments once scheduled.
- Know your lab values! Pay attention to what’s happening in your body.
- Pause – to breathe! Take short breaks throughout the day; walk away from your office even if for a short time just to BREATHE!
- Connecting with nature – cool breeze, warm sunshine, even a brief walk in the rain is beneficial
- Holding hands under warm water – soothing and relaxing; crates a sense of calm
- Adequate rest and sleep- Know how much sleep you need and achieve it
- Set boundaries- time and space; make sure you carve out time for yourself
- Recreation – activities outside of work to help “RE-CREATE” yourself
- Meditation and/or prayer-whatever feeds and nourishes your soul
- Reading books and magazines for pleasure and enjoyment
- Socializing with friends and family
- Travel – even staycations work wonders for the soul!
- Take a MENTAL HEALTH DAY(s) as needed
- Schedule regular therapeutic sessions with a professional counselor or therapist
- Purchase a new journal and write your thoughts regularly
- Use of essential oils- to calm and soothe the mind while relaxing the body
- Spa visits – treat yourself to pampering when you feel overwhelmed
- PLAY – enjoy childlike play for a change; adult coloring books are therapeutic!
- Watching your favorite tv show, podcast or movie uninterrupted
- Reward yourself regularly for prioritizing your needs, your work, and your dedication
- Take up a new hobby- something you’ve always wanted to do.
- Remember: Some employers provide incentives for wellness, exercise and healthy living. Take advantage of it. Employees may earn discounts, gift cards, merchandise and other incentives. Take advantage of it as you prepare for a healthier YOU!
By Regina Franklin-Basye, MDiv, MS, LNFA, FT: Fellow in Thanatology: Death, Dying & Bereavement