Let’s be honest. As rewarding as it can be, caregiving is often hard work. When you throw in the extra frustrations and expectations that come with the holidays, seasonal festivities can add lots more stress to a difficult job.
In honor of last month’s National Alzheimer’s Month and Family Caregivers’ Month, let’s look at how caregivers can continue to do a great job of caregiving during this emotional time of the year. Along with friends and family rallying to provide volunteer or professional respite, caregivers need to take steps to preserve their own health and well-being.
Why are the Holidays Stressful for Caregivers?
The holidays are stressful for caregivers because the holidays are stressful for everyone in one way or another. However, caregivers not only have their own sets of experiences and emotions to contend with, they have their family member to take care of.
For example, caregivers may feel resentment that other family members have not offered more help. They may feel left out because family and friends find it difficult to be around your charge. In addition, already feeling overwhelmed with caregiving tasks, stressed-out caregivers may view traditional holiday preparations as more of a huge drain on precious energy than a joyful time.
According to an article by Mayo Clinic staff, individuals who experience the most caregiver stress are the most vulnerable to changes in their own health. They fall into the trap of thinking they must do everything themselves and end up ignoring their own needs.
Signs of Caregiver Stress
Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:
• Feeling tired most of the time
• Feeling overwhelmed and irritable
• Sleeping too much or too little
• Gaining or losing a lot of weight
• Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
Those who experience too much stress are more likely to experience depression or anxiety. When factors such as not getting enough physical activity or not eating right are added in, stressed-out caregivers become good candidates for their own medical problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
Keep it Simple – Keep expectations (and disappointments) to a minimum by simplifying holiday traditions. Maybe hold a potluck with paper plates instead of a fancy sit-down dinner?
Take time for yourself – A meditation practice helps people keep from dwelling on negative thoughts, gives you a mental break and a way to gain perspective and a greater sense of contentment.
Adjust expectations – Instead of ruminating about how wonderful things “used to be,” try being grateful for where you are and what you’ve got now. Realize that lots of things are out of our control so it simply doesn’t help to dwell on old expectations
Holidays Can Be an Opportunity for Communication
Although sharing may be difficult, an article on the National Caregivers Alliance (NCA) website suggests a family gathering may be a good time to communicate honestly about the realities and changing nature of the caregiving situation. For the caregiver it may help reduce feelings of resentment and isolation.
How Caregivers Can Orchestrate a Positive Holiday Experience
• Holiday greetings and a brief note – Help inform guests and distant relatives to the caregiving situation.
• Let sleeping dogs lie? – Consider clearing the air with talks to family members before the event. Otherwise, put resentments on hold and set a time to discuss family issues after the holidays.
• Be clear about your energy level – Let family members know that your caregiving duties are keeping you very busy and that you only have so much energy for holiday preparation and hosting duties.
• Accept the need to adapt – Caregivers may need to limit or modify holiday activities for the impaired loved one. You may also have to choose events that are the simplest, least exhausting and most enjoyable for the person for whom you provide care—and for you.
• The visit room – Consider making a safe, quiet place during the festivities where your loved one can avoid too much stimulation. This quiet room also makes a much nicer environment to chat with family members one-on-one.
Share Your Caregiver Wish List with Friends and Family
Let friends and family know what you need. Be honest and give them very clear wishes:
• Respite: Some caregivers ask for time off from caregiving duties as a gift for the holidays. If this is not possible, perhaps friends and/or family would consider paying for a home care worker or a stay at a respite facility.
• Home repairs: Do light bulbs need changing, or grab bars need installing? Tasks such as these may be the perfect way for a family member to help out if providing personal care is too uncomfortable.
• Care for you! Ask for a gift certificate for a massage, facial or manicure? How about an opportunity to spend the day fishing or a walk in the outdoors?
• Book your homecare worker early! Speak with your home care worker or home care agency early about your holiday plans!
Tips on How Caregivers Can Make the Holidays More Fulfilling
1) Schedule one-on-one time
Set time aside this holiday season to enjoy the person you care for in a relaxed, one-on-one context. Try looking through family photo albums or unpacking holiday decorations, which may stimulate memories.
2) Reflect on the rewards
Reflecting on the rewards of caregiving can help maintain your self-esteem. It may feel very rewarding to know that you are fulfilling a vow or promise you have made to the person for whom you provide care.
3) A little thank you goes a long way
After the holidays write a thank you note to those who spent time with your loved one. They may then be more encouraged to visit again or be more supportive of your efforts.