Women, Caregiving, and COVID-19
Two out of every three caregivers in the United States are women, meaning they provide daily or regular support to children, adults, or people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Women who are caregivers have a greater risk for poor physical and mental health, including depression and anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic can add even more stressors to caregiving. Here are some tips to help you manage caring for yourself and others:
If you are stressed, anxious, or depressed
As a caregiver, taking care of yourself and getting the help you need are important. Taking care includes maintaining healthy behaviors, managing stress, and seeking extra support, especially during COVID-19.
Maintain Healthy Behaviors
- Take breaks from watching, listening or reading news stories or social media postings about COVID-19.
- Make time to unwind. Take a walk or do an activity you enjoy.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
- Find other ways to cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seek Extra Support
- You are not alone. Support groups provide a safe place for people in similar situations to find comfort. Ask a doctor or your state or local health department to recommend a caregiver’s support group that offers virtual meetings. You can also find caregiver support resources by searching online and typing in “caregiver support group” and the name of your community. Childcare networks or eldercare support agencies for your state or county can also be contacted.
- Recognize when you may need more help. If stress or negative thoughts get in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row, talk to a psychologist or therapist, social worker, or professional counselor.
- Ask your doctor or local health clinic to refer you to counselors who may offer services for free or on a sliding fee scale. Some health insurance policies may cover counseling services.
- Recognize and act when you may be the victim of abuse or may become abusive. Abusive behavior by or against caregivers can happen more often during stressful periods like COVID-19. Get help with prevention or protective resources in your state for domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse as needed.
- If you are feeling overwhelmed with sadness or anxiety, feel threatened, or want to harm yourself or others:
- Call 9-1-1
- Visit the Disaster Distress Helpline, call or text 1-800-985-5990.
- Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
- Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
- Visit the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline or call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
Related: Mental Health & Coping During COVID-19, Tips for Coping with Stress, Coping with Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks, Behavioral Treatment Services Locator, Doctor Visits and Getting Medicine
If you are caring for children
With some worksites, schools, and childcare centers closed because of COVID-19, many caregivers must manage work while also teaching and caring for their children. Balancing more than one role can be hard when you are taking care of children. Seek support from family and friends when you feel anxious or need help with childcare or other household tasks in order to reduce your stress. If possible, consider asking your employer for flexible work schedules. Consult your state website for re-opening plans and refer to guidance for specific industries and workers to help inform your options and decisions about returning to work.
Children may find it hard to cope with hearing and seeing too much information about COVID-19. Caregivers can share COVID-19 information for children and limit how much news and social media they see. Children, like adults, should also practice social distancing. This means limiting their contact with other children and adults who live outside their home. Social distancing from friends and less time for play may also make them feel sad or angry. Search for new ways to keep children busy with their normal interests and routines as much as possible.
Here are a few tips for caring for children during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- If you need childcare while you are working from home, try to avoid choosing someone who is at a higher risk of severe illness, such as an older relative or someone with an underlying medical condition.
- Ensure appropriate resources and emergency planning for children with special needs.
- Help your child stay socially connected. Kids can stay connected by reaching out to their friends and family by phone, video chats, or through letters and cards.
- Help children continue learning when school is not in session. Many schools are offering lessons online (virtual learning). If your child is having a hard time doing assigned work, let the teachers know. Ask teachers for help if you’re not sure what your child is ready to learn or how your child learns best. It’s important to create a routine yet flexible schedule for learning at home.
- Check if your school will serve meals even when school is not in session. Many schools are providing free meals for kids in local communities.
- Encourage your child to play outdoors when possible. Being active is great for children’s physical and mental health. Use indoor activity breaks (like stretching or dance breaks) throughout the day to help your child stay healthy and focused.
If you are caring for older adults
Most caregivers of older adults are women over age 50. Female caregivers report having more physical and mental distress and poor health compared to male caregivers. Managing your own health while caring for an older adult can be hard. Check for respite services in your local area so that you can take a break, rest, and recharge, as needed.
Older adults are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, so it’s important to create a plan to protect them. A care plan describes what you will do if you become unable to care for your older family member. A care plan includes a contact list of family, friends, neighbors and local service agencies that can provide caregiving support if you are ill or not available. For example, a backup caregiver should ideally not be someone at risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Because of COVID-19, you may be unable to visit the older person you normally care for if they are admitted to a hospital or nursing home. Ask the facility staff if they can help you reach out to them by phone, video chat, text, or sending cards or letters.
Here are some other tips to help you when caring for older adults:
- Take extra steps to protect older adults and people with medical conditions from getting sick.
- Limit trips outside the home except for essential errands such as going to the grocery store, pharmacy, or seeking medical care. Keep canned, packaged, or frozen foods, cleaning supplies, and EPA-approved disinfecting products at home to limit trips to the grocery store.
- Try to keep extra supplies of medications and other necessities such as oxygen, incontinence supplies (pads or disposable underwear), thermometers, wound care (antiseptics, bandages, and gauze), or other medical supplies for older adults in your care.
Related: How to Protect Those Who Are Most Vulnerable, COVID-19 Guidance for Older Adults, COVID-19: Tips for Dementia Caregivers, COVID-19: People with Disabilities, Caring for Someone with COVID-19, State Lifespan Respite Programs, Women and Caregiving Infographic
If you are an essential worker
A larger percentage of women than men work as nurses and other healthcare practitioners, nursing home and home healthcare support workers, social service workers, teachers, childcare workers, grocery store cashiers, and postal service workers. During COVID-19, women continue their work in these and other essential jobs serving the public, including emergency workers and first responder personnel.
If you are an essential worker, you may have a lot of stress due to longer work hours and tough working conditions. You may have less time and energy to be the caregiver you want to be. It is critical for essential workers to stay well in order to help those in need. In addition, essential workers may also have a greater risk of exposing their household members to COVID-19.
Here are some resources for essential workers that can help:
- Learn tips for self-care and stress management for emergency responders.
- Learn how healthcare professionals can protect themselves from COVID-19.
- Reduce risks associated with long hours for emergency responders.
- Learn about worker safety and support resources for your profession.
If you are having financial problems
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial hardship for millions of women and others who have lost their jobs or had their work hours reduced. A large proportion of women are both primary caregivers and primary wage earners for their households. Losing your job means not only a loss of income, but often a loss of access to health insurance and other employment benefits. You may find it difficult to provide essential items, including food, to people in your care.
Financial concerns during COVID-19 may cause added stress for women. Women working in industries such as airlines, hotels, childcare, restaurants, and retail sales, may be more likely to experience job loss during COVID-19 as many of these industries have limited or ceased operations. A larger percentage of women than men report worrying about losing income due to job loss or reduced hours because of COVID-19. Income loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can mean serious financial hardship for many.
Here are some resources that can help:
- Contact social service agencies and organizations in your county or state to find out about your options for unemployment, food, and housing assistance. Local offices may be found online or in the state or local government phone directories. Offices may be listed under online searches for “Food Stamps,” “Social Services,” “Human Services,” or “Public Assistance.” Many states have a 2-1-1 hotline to access information about services.
- Check the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) directory of resources to get information about food benefits in your state.
- Many communities are providing free meals for kids through local school districts and for older adults through programs like Meals on Wheels.
- Learn about tools and programs to help with spending and money management.
- Check to see if your city or state has paused evictions during COVID-19.
- Contact your power, gas, water, telephone, internet, and other companies about your monthly bills. Explain your financial situation and request bill payment arrangements.