Federal, provincial, and territorial governments in Canada are implementing strict measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some recent measures have included travel restrictions, school closures, and event cancellations. Governments are urging Canadians to practice social distancing and stay home whenever possible.
These measures are necessary to reduce the pressure on our health care system. When everyone gets sick at the same time, it overloads the capacity of our health care system and we don’t have the resources to treat every person. Community-wide preventative measures can slow the rate of transmission. With less people sick at the same time, our health care system has the capacity to treat everyone who is ill.
However, these preventative measures can be overwhelming, stressful, and anxiety-inducing for individuals with FASD and their families. School and workplace closures can disrupt the routines that help individuals with FASD to navigate their daily lives. Parents are left trying to find childcare options or having to take time off work to care for their children while schools are closed. Workplace closures can interfere with income, causing anxiety surrounding how families will survive into the future. Event cancellations can result in feelings of disappointment and mistrust, and social distancing measures may result in depression, fear, anxiety, and loneliness.
All of these situations can be extremely stressful for caregivers of individuals with FASD. The World Health Organization has provided some strategies for coping with stress during the outbreak, which we’ve have added to:
- Talk to someone: The feelings of sadness, stress, confusion, fear, and anger that you are experiencing are completely normal in these circumstances. Talk to a friend or family member that you trust about these feelings. Although the government is recommending Canadians stay inside, email, text messages, phone calls, and video messaging are great ways to stay in contact with your support system.
- Get reliable information: If the source of your stress is originating from fears and concerns surrounding the “unknowns” of COVID-19, arm yourself with the most up-to-date information about the virus from reliable sources like government websites and health agencies.
- Limit media coverage: If you are upset and stressed by the constant media coverage of COVID-19, limit your media exposure. Seek information from reliable sources such as public health agencies and governments, and limit the time you spend on social media, and listening and watching the news.
- Practice self-care: Stress reduction is critical in caregivers of individuals with FASD and other disabilities because of their high levels of stress. When you begin to feel overwhelmed, take some time for yourself. Even a few minutes can provide you with a much-needed reset to get you through the rest of the day. Be sure to follow the best practices outlined by the Public Health Agency of Canada and find opportunities for self-care that align with the social distancing recommendations. Researchers have shown that the most-used strategies for self-care include:
- Quiet time (i.e., yoga, “me-time”, prayer, time in nature)
- Physical health (i.e., exercise, healthy eating, sleeping better)
- Social support (i.e., support groups, support networks, counsellors)
- Recognize burnout: Caregiver burnout is a state of stress and fatigue that is caused by increased and sustained levels of stress from caring for an individual without the proper supports in place. Interventions, support groups, and short periods of rest can improve your wellbeing. With recommendations in place that suggest social gatherings be limited or cancelled, physical support groups may be difficult to access. However, there are always opportunities to connect with other caregivers virtually, including:
- Seek professional help: If you become too overwhelmed to deal with the stress of the situation or find yourself turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol, consider connecting with a professional. There are a number of telehealth lines available across Canada that can connect you with the services and resources you need.
Here are some resources that discuss caregiver burnout in more detail:
- Making Sense of the Madness: An FASD Survival Guide(pg. 21-27)
- Know FASD: Caregiver Burnout
- FASD Network of Southern California