Care for Carers

Care for Carers

The COVID-19 pandemic has upturned our knowledge of the world. People everywhere are struggling to come to terms with changes in their lives and as Care Workers this is applicable to your work, too: What is allowed? How do we offer help? What is right and wrong? How do we keep ourselves safe?  The questions come faster than the answers.

As a Community Care Worker, you will not only be worried about the safety of those you care for, but also for your own well-being. Working at this time can result in isolation from family, friends and even one’s children – the fear of becoming infected, and infecting others, is a real. Also, existing illnesses, poverty and trauma do not disappear during a pandemic – it simply adds layers to what you, as Care Workers, face on a daily basis.

Much is being asked of you in these difficult times, and it is completely normal to feel anxious, angry and overwhelmed. This means that taking care of yourself and your mental health is now more important than ever before.

If you are feeling stressed or worried, call or send a WhatsApp to 081 514 3120 and a therapist from Paedspal will give you a confidential call back. (Mondays to Fridays, 9am-4pm)

Some quick pointers:

Boundaries are protective. Although it feels that your role demands more and more from you (and it does), it’s important to set strong boundaries. This could mean ‘switching off’ after hours or setting a cut-off time for calls or messages. You may be hearing and engaging with COVID-19-related material all day – during work, on your phone, the radio, TV and conversations after hours. While it’s important to stay up-to-date with current news, it’s also crucial to protect yourself from information overload. Try to limit how much you engage with that content. Set time to enjoy your hobbies and interests, take time to exercise, and do family activities together if possible. Protecting your personal time may not only help boost your mood, it could help you manage your daily work as well.

Communication is key. We all want to feel safe in our work spaces, and we can only do this if we have trust in our teams and our colleagues. Communicate your concerns clearly – whether it is about your hours, your access to PPE or your own health. Feeling unheard and undervalued can worsen your anxieties and fears. Remember that it is within your right and ability to ask – for more information if you need it, for clarity if you feel confused, for PPE if you don’t have any. Health and Community Care Workers spend much of their time hearing the concerns of others, and it is just as important to be heard and seen yourselves. Remember that most community clinics and hospitals have a mental health department. If you feel overwhelmed and unsure, you can always ask a nurse to be referred to a mental health professional.

Staying connected is protective. Working during this time may feel exhausting and frightening. The stresses that you faced before the pandemic could feel even worse now. Social distancing means that many people feel disconnected from those in their lives, and sometimes loneliness can feel as painful as a physical illness. Set aside time to connect with loved ones, even if it’s over the phone. Talk to friends, co-workers or family about how you feel, and reach out them when you feel lonely. In these times, be aware of exactly what you’re feeling and name it – sad, angry, anxious, frustrated, shameful, lonely, etc. Try to share these honest feelings with those closest to you. It’s important to seek help early. If you feel stressed, or if things begin to feel unmanageable, remember that you can access professional help. Trained counsellors or psychologists are available to help you through this.

  • When to ask for help
    When to ask for help

    In your line of work, you may be used to dealing with crises and managing big problems. However, these are very unusual and difficult times. As Community Care Workers, you don’t have to deal with these new challenges alone, especially if you are feeling distressed. Remember that you can ask for help. The right time to ask for help is any time.
    Here are some situations in which you might consider reaching out:

    1. When you are feeling negative emotions

    When you are feeling intense emotions that are distressing and overwhelming, it is your mind’s way of telling you that things might be unmanageable right now. All this means is that you have to take the step to reach out to someone for help. You can:

    • alert your Community Connector to this problem who can connect you with the Masked Heroes support mechanisms
    • call Lifeline (0861 322 322)  or SADAG (0800 21 22 23) for telephonic counselling if you need it
    • call your local clinic and ask a nurse for the mental health department if you want to be referred to a professional

    2. When you want to connect with others

    Loneliness is normal during this time of social distancing. The people we were used to seeing every day or every weekend may not be in our lives the way they used to be. This means that we have to find new ways to connect. You can reach out to your church group if that is something that you enjoy. You can start a WhatsApp group with other Community Care Workers to support each other. You can reach out to old friends and acquaintances via phone calls and text messages.

    3. When you want to support

    Seeing colleagues struggle might be painful to witness. Even though we are required to physically distance, there are ways to stay socially connected. If you see or hear of a Community Care Worker who is struggling and needs help, reach out to them. Send them a message of support, add them to an existing WhatsApp group of Community Care Workers, or connect them with their local Community Connector. This not only uplifts and supports others, but might even make you feel connected and positive.

    If you want to be connected to a Community Connector to ask any questions about staying connected, please send an email to backup@maskedheroes.org.za.

  • How to cope in difficult times

    Coping means that you are able to lower your distress and find ways to help you manage your day. Some days will be easier than others, but it is important to find the tools to help you handle these tough moments. Our behaviours can sometimes make us feel better or worse, so let’s pay attention to those. You may not succeed in coping perfectly all the time, but that is not the goal. The goal is to make sure that you have enough resources to help you when the going gets tough.

    Here are some ways to think about how you can make your day feel easier:

    Helpful Ways

    Unhelpful Ways

    Getting accurate information about the pandemic

    Reading the news or stories about the pandemic excessively

    Using what has worked in the past for relaxation (music, exercise, TV)

    Repeating behaviours that cause you more stress

    Talking to family and friends, even telephonically

    Withdrawing yourself from social interaction

    Getting enough rest and nutrition

    Completely losing a daily routine

    Schedule time for self-care habits

    Neglecting your own needs

    Reaching out for extra help

    Blaming yourself or others for what you are feeling

    Spend time having fun and playing with the children in your house

    Not engaging fun activities or leisure

    Join a group – it can be church, a support group, a group of colleagues, etc.

    Not asking for help when you are struggling

    Start to journal or write down what you are feeling

    Ignoring your feelings completely

    Staying in the present moment

    Overthinking the past or future

    Identify things you can control

    Overthinking things you cannot control

  • Taking care of ourselves
    Phone a friend

    As Community Care Workers, your focus and attention may often be on others. Your job requires your mind to focus on well-being of those around you. This can sometimes be challenging and even overwhelming. Your worries about yourself, your family, friends and colleagues may feel intense. Remember that feelings of sadness, anger, frustration or anxiety are normal. You are experiencing a very new and difficult challenge. The hardest part of this challenge might be caring for yourself in the midst of the chaos.
    Take some time out every day to do some, or all, of these activities, to help you cope with overwhelming moments:

    1. Name the feelings

    Sometimes we can feel a lot of emotions that get muddled up. The feelings might be too strong, and there might be too many of them. Sometimes we can’t identify which emotions we’re feeling and so we try to ignore them. Instead, we can name them. Sit down for a few minutes a day with a pen and paper, and write down what you feel in that moment: “Irritated”, “Angry”, “Lonely”, “Worried”, “Happy”, “Anxious”, “Sad”. Naming our feelings makes them less scary and confusing, and makes it easier for us to communicate them to others if we need to.

    2. Just breathe

    Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose. Feel your chest and stomach fill with air as you do. Then and breathe out through your mouth. Feel your chest and stomach fall. Repeat this for however long you need. This exercise helps physically slow down your body

    3. Focus on what you can control

    The world may feel out of control at times in this strange and stressful situation. You might feel anxious about not doing or changing enough. Perhaps you’re anxious about the future, your safety or your friends and family. This can make it even harder to cope throughout the day. Although it can be preoccupying to think about everything that is out of control, it’s important to remember that there are some things that you can control. Perhaps you can control:

    • Your daily routine
    • What story you read your child at home
    • What you cook
    • When you decide to go to sleep
    • How many friends or family members you contact or reach out to for support
    • How much time you spend reading stressful news reports

    Even if it’s not the above, maybe you have control in other areas of your life. Write them down to remind yourself that you also have some power and agency in this difficult time.

    4. Switching off from work

    Your work is important but demanding. After work, you might find yourself thinking about the people you care for, or the stories you’ve heard or maybe even your work-day tomorrow. An important part of being an effective Community Care Worker is ensuring that you care for yourself too. This means that you can try to make some space and time for yourself. This can include:

    • Reading or watching something that you enjoy
    • Playing with your children
    • Having a conversation with a loved one
    • Taking a walk
    • Spending quality time with those in the house
    • Having moments of quiet and peace by yourself

    If you can think of other activities you prefer, do those! Remember that self-care isn’t once off – it’s a lifestyle. Try to practice a few of these a week or a day. If you need more assistance with overwhelming feelings, we’ve got you. Send an email to backup@maskedheroes.org.za to be connected to people who can help support you.

  • You are not alone
    You are not alone

    People feel a wide range of emotions during a disaster. You might think that you’re alone in what you’re feeling, or perhaps you worry that there is something wrong with you. But strong emotions and reactions are often a perfectly normal and common response to disastrous events.
    If you are worried about how you have been feeling, remember that:

    • It’s normal to have strong reactions in unusually stressful and frightening circumstances
    • There is no ‘right’/’wrong’ way to think or feel in these times. Allow yourself the space to feel whatever you are feeling
    • Different feelings will come and go
    • Sometimes feelings will be intense, sometimes they might feel light or numb
    • Feeling confused and uncertain is a common reaction to the time

    At different times, you might feel different things. As the pandemic progresses and your work starts to feel more demanding, here are a few examples of what you might experience:

    Features of a Pandemic

    Some normal feelings

    Some normal responses

    Uncertainty about our lives or the future

    Anxiety, sadness, euphoria, fear, shame, anxiety

    Losing focus, becoming distracted, eating/sleeping too much or too little,

    Ongoing changes to our lives,

    Irritation, frustration, grief, sadness, anger, anxiety

    Withdrawing, numbing, avoiding people or interaction, burnout

    Loss (of people, livelihood or lifestyle)

    Grief, sadness, anger, shame, guilt, confusion, anxiety

    Losing hope or joy, withdrawal, numbing, burnout

    These are just some of the feelings you may experience – you might experience other feelings too. Every Community Care Worker may be going through their own unique experience, but we have a lot in common. So don’t be hard on yourself in this time.

    Source: healthscotland.scot

  • Your well-being plan

    It might be difficult to keep in mind all the different aspects that could help you manage your daily well-being. Sometimes it can even feel too much to remember, especially when you’re stressed. You can use this well-being plan below, derived from the British National Health Service, to help you cope on a daily basis. Click here to download a copy of this to your phone, and read it when you feel unsure of what you need to do to manage your day:

     

    Physical Demand

    Psychological Stress

    Isolation/loss of connection

     

    Behaviours

    Thoughts

    Social Connections

    During work

    • Give yourself permission to take breaks in a safe environment.
    • Eat and drink well.
    • Don’t take on more than you can handle.
    • Focus attention on what you can control.
    • Notice your own stress & acknowledge it is normal to feel stressed.
    • Do some breathing exercises in moments of anxiety.

     

    • Check in with colleagues.
    • Work with a buddy where possible.
    • Text or call family and friends during your breaks.

    Leaving work

    • Do a physical ‘check in’ – “Am I ok?”
    • Who can I speak to / what do I need?
    • Take a moment to say to yourself “Todays shift is over. I have done what I can”
    • Reflect on your day and acknowledge your feelings.
    • What went well?
    • Connect and share your experience today with colleagues.
    • Check on your colleagues before you leave. Are they ok?

    At home

    • Plan activities that you
    • know help you relax.
    • Prioritise rest, exercise & eating.
    • Plan a wind-down routine to sleep.
    • Awareness – notice the days impact on your body, emotions, relationships.
    • Plan a wind down routine to mentally and physically

    disconnect from work.

    • Take time to consciously switch off mentally from work.
    • Connection – Create and maintain connections to people and activities that are important.
    • Connect to your values – why is this

    work important you and your community?

For more tips and resources to manage your mental and physical health, have a look at our ‘Manage your health‘ page.

Reach out for help

As Care Workers you are facing a pandemic in the midst of existing hardship. You may feel confused and helpless at times, and you may find yourself making difficult decisions during its course. Perfection in your work is not the goal. In these circumstances, the work that you are able and willing to provide is invaluable. Importantly, in your own struggles through this, remember that you can reach out for help and care:

Lifeline

Lifeline
National 24/7 toll-free helpine: 0861 322 322
Or write to: lifelineoffice@gmail.com

South African Depression and Anxiety Group

South African Depression and Anxiety Group
National 24/7 toll-free helpline:
0800 21 22 23
0800 70 80 90
0800 456 789
And their Suicide Helpline:
0800 567 567

There is no doubt in my mind that we will prevail. This is because South Africans have come together like never before to wage the struggle against this virus, together.