The holidays are a wonderful time of year for family gatherings, reflection on what we have and the spirit of giving. But the holidays can also be a time of stress and sadness for those who are caring for family members, who are struggling with health problems, frailty, dementia and loss. As a caregiver you may feel overwhelmed, frustrated, depressed or resentful as you envision a perfect holiday that never happens. However, there are measures you can take to enjoy the holidays.
First: know that you are not alone.
A recent study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP found that 44.4 million Americans over age 18 are providing unpaid care to an adult. According to the survey provided by the National Family Caregivers Association:
- The typical caregiver is a 46-year-old woman who works and spends more than 20 hours per week caring for her mother.
- Female caregivers provide more hours of care and provide a higher level of care than male caregivers.
- Almost seven in ten (69%) caregivers say they help one person.
- Many caregivers fulfill multiple roles. Most caregivers are married or living with a partner (62%), and most have worked and managed caregiving responsibilities at the same time (74%).
Second: find help.
There are many resources available to a caregiver. Some of these include family members, friends, homecare providers, and geriatric care managers.
Most family members and friends are willing to help, but don’t know what to do. It is important to communicate with them about what kind of help you need and let them know specifically what they can do.
A good source for professional advice is a non-medical home care agency. Many offer free consultations and provide home health aides to assist your loved one with such things as bathing, dressing, shopping, household chores, transportation, companionship and much more. A home care agency may also help you coordinate adult day care or other community services.
You may wish to pay for a formal assessment and care plan from a professional geriatric care manager. Care managers are valuable in helping locate resources, finding money to pay for care, coordinating care amongst family members, and providing advice on issues, which you may be struggling.
Lastly: take care of yourself first in order to give effective and loving care.
You need to take care of yourself by keeping your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self balanced. There is joy and respite in balancing all of these areas in our life. This is what makes us efficient and happy. Here are some ways for you as a caregiver to take care of yourself:
- Maintain a positive attitude. Take time to be grateful for everything that is good in your life. There is always something. Adjust your expectations for the holiday season. If you aren’t expecting that perfect holiday family picture, then you won’t be angry and frustrated that it isn’t something you have right now. It is always possible to change your attitude and perceptions, but it is not always possible to change your circumstances.
- Eat healthy food and be sure to get some exercise. Drink more water, cut down on sugary snacks, pick up some vegetables and fruit for on-the-go snacks. Walk or do marching in place. Run or walk up and down stairs if that is all the time you have right now.
- Forgive and let go of frustrations, anger, resentment and guilt. Get counseling, talk to a friend or family member or simply write down the negative feelings to get them out of your system. Never take your anger and frustrations out on those you care for.
- Take time to do something you enjoy every day. Laughter is a great stress reliever. Find something funny to read or get on the internet and find a funny video to watch.
- During the holidays, be easy on yourself. If you enjoy holiday activities, then get out there and do them. Ask someone to help with your caregiving duties even if it is just for an hour or two to shop or to see a concert or movie.
Being a “perfect” caregiver during the holidays does not have to look like the perfect on-screen holiday family. How you handle your circumstance will be the key to creating your own peace, happiness and cheer during the holiday season. The holidays can be a time of reflection on good things. Your attitude and a little care for yourself can make a big difference in the care that you give in the coming year.