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Caring for Yourself as You Care for Others: Guidance for Workers

April 17, 2020

As a nursing assistant, home care worker, or other direct care worker, you are critical to the well-being of those you care for every day—especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The following tips are meant to help you take care of yourself as you care for your clients during this exceptionally stressful time.

Monitor your own health

If you are not taking care of yourself, it’s hard to be fully there for anyone else. The main COVID-19 symptoms to watch for, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Emergency warning signs for COVID-19 that require immediate attention include (but are not limited to):

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Confusion or non-responsiveness
  • Bluish lips or face

If you develop these or other severe symptoms, consult a medical provider right away.

Care for your family

You may be struggling to balance your paid responsibilities with your family’s needs and wellbeing at this time. Your children may be at home due to school closures, but your usual sources of support, including relatives and neighbors who would normally help you with childcare, may not be available. However, many state and local governments are providing free childcare for essential workers during this crisis. Many school districts have also continued their meal programs despite school closings. Ask your employer if they can help you identify what services and supports you may be eligible for, and reach out to local community-based organizations that may be able to provide help.

Manage Infection at Home

If someone in your home develops COVID-19 symptoms, here are key steps that the CDC recommends taking to prevent the spread of infection.

  • If possible, move the person to a separate room, or have them wear a mask around others.
  • Use separate personal items, like towels, bedding, and dishes.
  • Dispose of tissues promptly in tied-off bags.
  • Disinfect all surfaces in your home regularly, using household cleaning products according to the label instructions.
  • Have everyone in the house wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after interacting with the sick person.
  • Ensure that everyone avoids touching their eyes, noses, and mouths.
  • Wash laundry thoroughly, wearing disposable gloves if possible, and wash your hands immediately afterwards.
  • Avoid having visitors in your home if possible, including family members.
  • For any additional information, contact a healthcare provider or state or local health department, and/or visit the CDC website on COVID-19.

Care for yourself

While focusing on your family and your clients, remember to also take care of your own mental and emotional wellbeing. Stress and anxiety are normal responses to this crisis, not a sign of weakness—and managing these feelings is as important as managing your physical health. Recent guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute of Mental Health offers some useful tips, including:

  1. Limit your media intake. If the news makes you anxious, find a source of news you trust and read (or listen to) it no more than one to two times a day. You may also choose to gather COVID-19 information and updates directly from an authoritative source like your state health department’s website.
  2. Maintain regular routines when possible. Sufficient sleep, well-balanced meals, and physical activity can all help you maintain your emotional wellbeing as well as your physical health during this challenging time.
  3. Stay connected to family and friends. Even if you are physically distanced, maintain contact with loved ones through texts, email, phone or video calls, or other methods. You may also consider reaching out to co-workers who are likely to be sharing similar experiences and worries.
  4. Rely on familiar stress-management techniques. The WHO guidance states that “the COVID-19 outbreak is a unique and unprecedented scenario for many workers… Even so, using strategies that have worked for you in the past to manage times of stress can benefit you now. You are the person most likely to know how you can de-stress.” Example techniques include deep breathing and relaxation, positive thinking, staying busy, drawing on spiritual beliefs, or helping others.

The weeks and months ahead are full of uncertainty, and that uncertainty will be emotionally (and practically) hard to navigate. If you arm yourself with facts, resources, and a commitment to self-care, however, you will be better able to support your family, your clients, and your co-workers. Thank you for all you are doing in this moment, and every single day.

If you are a direct care worker, a long-term care employer, a long-term care consumer or family member, or other concerned individual, we want to hear from you. Please take a few minutes to complete our ongoing survey.

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