From Ms. Pam
Managing Caregiver Stress
Hello East Orient Families,
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling pretty stressed lately. Stress takes a bit of a toll on me. I get restless, develop a twitch in my eye, and have knots the size of golf balls in my shoulders. I’m not dealing with half of what many of our East Orient families are. I know when my to-do list gets too long, the last thing I think about is self-care. How can I make time for myself when I’m needed by so many? And yet (sometimes annoyingly), I’m reminded of that adage, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” It’s absolutely an overused phrase, and it’s absolutely true. We have a lot of demands on our cups right now: work, kids, parents, pets...How can you tell when your cup is getting empty?
Trouble sleeping: Sleeping too much, sleeping too little, trouble falling asleep, or having frequent nightmares.
Irritability: It seems like every little thing is annoying you lately. You find yourself snapping at others, including your kids, over things that don’t typically bother you.
Increased conflict: More than a little irritability, you’re now arguing frequently with a partner or other adults in your home. You’re yelling at your kids or saying things to or about them that you’d never normally say. You’re doling out punishments more harshly or more quickly than you normally would.
Fantasies of escape: Parenting is a 24/7 job, but pre-COVID there were a lot more opportunities for breaks. Play dates, sleep overs, and school allowed parents and guardians to rest and focus on other tasks for a while. Now that many of those opportunities have been reduced or removed completely, you may not be getting needed breaks and find yourself reminiscing fondly of a time before you had kids.
Exhaustion: A big pile of dishes is waiting in the sink, your kid has a school project due tomorrow and wants your help, your mom called and asked for you to run to the store for her, but all you want to do is lay down and not move for a while. It’s like your brain is made of cotton candy and you can’t think straight.
Emotional detachment: You struggle to put energy into everything you used to. Back in September, you were keeping track of your children’s assignments and making sure they got turned in on time. Now you’re lucky if you can get your child to sign on once a day. You used to try to make a weekly Skype date with your friends or extended family, now you reach out maybe once a month, and you’re not overly bothered. You’ve hit your limit.
If this sounds like you, you may be experiencing caregiver burnout. You are not alone--in a recent report from the American Psychological Association, 63% of parents polled said that COVID has made the 2020-2021 school year “extremely stressful” for them. This is not news to anyone. You know firsthand how stressed you’ve been. There is often stigma for parents and guardians who experience burnout and find themselves not matching up to the ideal of the parent or guardian they want to be. Particularly caregivers of children with mental health disorders or other learning differences that require extra effort from adults may be reaching critical stress levels.
If you’re not enjoying parenting right now, it doesn’t mean you don’t love or cherish your children. You’re not a bad caregiver. However, it would be very beneficial for you to try to engage in some self-care so you can be the best for yourself and for your kids. We can’t control the pandemic or the government (though how I wish we could sometimes), but there are a few things you can do, and some resources to help you, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and alone.
Seek support: If you haven’t reached out to loved ones for support, now’s the time. You’re not Superman, you don’t have to hang out in your Fortress of Solitude. There’s no shame in needing help, or someone to talk to. Parent support groups could be a great resource, since you’ll be talking with other adults who know what you’re going through and may have some insight, helpful advice, or just a nonjudgmental ear. You can reach out to a mental health professional, as well. Here are some local resources you can look into.
Take alone time when you can get it: In the mornings before the kids wake up, at night after they go to bed, while they’re in class or working on homework, take time for you. You can also get your kids set up with another activity and tell them that you’re taking some alone time. If possible, ask you a trusted adult or a partner to be with the kids while you rest and recharge. Pick your favorite relaxing activity, practice some mindfulness, read a book, drink some tea, or do whatever makes you feel rested.
Practice gratitude: Practicing gratitude may sound like a platitude, but it’s been scientifically proven to lift spirits and even combat depression (For more information, check out this video about gratitude from the Greater Good Science Center out of UC Berkeley). Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean blindly ignoring that bad things happen in our lives; rather, it allows us to see that even in the darkest moments of our lives, there are bright spots and things to be thankful for.
Take care of your body: Eat well, exercise, get at least 6-8 hours of sleep a night. These are things that are easy to say, but not so easy to do. Maybe you can make little changes to start: cut back on coffee and pop, take a quick walk at lunch, skip the Facebook scrolling before bed, etc. Physical and mental health are connected-you can’t care for one and neglect the other.
Of course, these are only suggestions, and they may not work for you or your family. However, I want you to know that you’re not alone. You’re doing the best you can, and we at East Orient see your effort and we are here to support you.