Managing Stress as a Caregiver

Person walking across a log in a forest.
Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

I miss spending time with friends, social outlets for my children, and treating myself to a cup of tea and a good book in a coffee shop. During this pandemic, our anxieties and depression may grow and many of the ways we cared for ourselves are off-limits to us. Reframing my situation is helpful to avoid resentment and burnout. Shifting my expectations and creating new stress relief plans become crucial for me. I remind myself that this situation is not permanent and hope it will build my resiliency.

Here, I’ve combined techniques that I have found helpful as a parent and educator along with ideas from experts in caregiving support. Please share what is working for you as well.

Go outdoors: Many studies have confirmed what people have known for generations; nature is an incredible antidote to stress. I find myself seeking out the sunlight as often as I can during these darker months. Knowing that some sun filters through clouds, I am outdoors regardless of the cloud cover. Stepping outside may require a little extra motivation on cold rainy days, but once I am outside, I (literally) leave behind many stressors, and can slow my breath a bit. Forest bathing can do wonders for our mood, and here in Oregon, many of us have easy access to the woods. But even a 10-minute walk down the street will uplift. I can’t always get out in nature, but I can step outside or look out a window and notice the sunlight, the puddles, the silhouettes of the bare tree branches, and how the moonlight changes. Being in nature helps me remember that my life and my struggles are one small part of a bigger picture. 

Offer yourself compassion: Sometimes I stop, take a breath, and tell myself, “This is hard.” That reminder helps me let go of stress. Dr. Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher suggests we try talking to ourselves as we would a close friend. Her short self-compassion break for caregivers may be a helpful place to begin practicing this. Making meditation or prayer part of your daily routine can gently create big shifts in your mindset. Showing ourselves empathy helps us care for others. You may want to share this practice with your upper-elementary and older children or this one with younger children (my former kindergarteners LOVED it!). We can use this time as an opportunity to model and teach our children how to manage challenges and calm ourselves. This will build resilience for us all. Make sure you address your own needs just as you would for the children in your life. Try to get some sleep. Drink some water. Make healthy eating choices as well as possible.

Create and notice small moments of joy: Taking time to list what makes you grateful won’t solve all your problems, but it can subtly shift your thinking. Many of us took our health and our jobs for granted; now we may feel thankful for being able to go to the grocery store. Thank people who are helpers. Sharing your appreciation with others will bring joy to them and you. It may spark both of you to continue those considerate choices. Can you pick up something at the pharmacy for a friend who is quarantining while you are running errands? Can you drop off a meal or takeout for a sick friend? Can you send a text or a card to a family you’re missing? 

Some days are better than others. I ran into a friend in a parking lot (distant, masked) who asked how I was doing. I could not honestly say, “Fine.” This is incredibly hard. As my friend and I talked together, I worried about burdening her with my complaints. But she felt reassured to know that she was not alone in her overwhelm. By the end of the conversation, she and I both felt a stronger connection and ready to face another day. 

Taking a moment to talk about memories, cry, and laugh together helped me remember that is temporary. Take time to connect – even if only through texting a friend. We are stronger together. 

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

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