During a year most have found stressful, Ed Cortez finds meditation calming.
Cortez, 53, works at Caledonia Senior Living & Memory Care in North Riverside, where his duties as a housekeeper include cleaning bathrooms and dining areas — keeping everything sanitary.
“Our job is making sure everything’s going to be maintained safely,” he said. “Not only protecting yourself, but protecting the residents as well.”
Across the country, challenges exist at places like nursing homes, from outbreaks of the coronavirus to families wrestling with limited visiting policies. This can also cause stress for staffers who watch the angst of family members while trying to reduce the risk of COVID-19.
To help combat some of this stress, Caledonia received a tablet with meditation and breathing exercises from Caring for our Caregivers. The group is donating tablets loaded with stress-reducing techniques so staffers can access tools whenever they have a few moments.
Recently, Cortez began using the tablet, listening to meditation with classical music. He has found breathing exercises useful in the past.
“It was calm and soothing throughout the session,” he sad, “especially with the music.”
As a housekeeper, he is able to greet people every day, he said, and that social interaction helps. But it has been hard to watch at times as residents are separated from family.
“You feel happy that they’re OK, but at the same time you feel some concern, because they don’t get to see their families as much because of COVID,” Cortez said.
Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that essential workers are among people likely to experience more mental health conditions amid the pandemic; so are unpaid caregivers.
COVID-19 also has put stress on those who work in long-term care, said Eleanor Feldman Barbera, a psychologist who writes for McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. Stress comes from multiple angles, including worries about the coronavirus and how to manage financially if workers need to take time off. Some are seeing residents die and worrying about adequate protective gear.
Even before the pandemic, this group of workers was under stress. A 2011 Harvard School of Public Health study showed symptoms of depression were common among low-wage nursing home employees. Other research has shown that nursing home staff experience significant levels of stress and burnout. A survey earlier this year of 1,812 staffers at senior living communities showed many had financial difficulties, including relatives laid off and having to pay for day care with children out of school.
Saloumeh Bozorgzadeh, a Chicago psychologist who is helping to collect donations for Caring for our Caregivers, said mental health conditions among health care professionals were already on their radar.
“We wanted something for burnout,” she said. She hopes the tablets help create calm.
Cortez said many people might have preconceptions about meditation.
“To many people it may not seem like it’s a lot,” he said, “but for the most part, it should help.”
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