Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Caring for the Caregiver
In 1 of every 3 households, at least one of the members is a Caregiver. In the US today, there are 44 million caregivers looking after loved ones who can no longer fully care for themselves. In some cases, it’s a temporary disability but in other cases, it’s a progressive disability like Alzheimer’s.
Caregivers are wonderful and generous people but because of their caring hearts, they often look after themselves last, much to their own detriment!
November ushers in the holiday season, a time of joy but also a time when many caregivers feel overwhelmed by the additional responsibilities the holidays add to their already full daily routines. Stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors like overeating, exercising less and getting less sleep which in turn, lowers our defenses and ability to cope.
Here are some tips from the Caregiving section of the AARP website to help you handle holiday stress and enjoy the season!
Recognize the signs of stress and burnout
Caregivers give and give and give and during the holidays, they give even more! All that giving can add up to high stress levels or even full-on burnout that creeps up on caregivers before they know it. Be aware of emotional ups and downs, fatigue levels, foggy thinking, inability to sit still or the opposite – feeling frozen and unable to get anything done.
Anticipate your own holiday buttons
Some holiday activities or toxic relatives can trigger stress or unhappy memories. Holidays may remind folks of grief or loss which can become overwhelming for varying periods of time, hours to days. It may be best to limit exposure to, or even avoid, certain places, events or people. If you can’t avoid certain situations, prepare yourself in advance. Minimize the drama, don’t try to resolve longtime family problems over the holidays, try short encounters and develop quick exit strategies. Mentally put yourself in a protective bubble, letting negative energy bounce off without hurting, annoying or distressing you.
Mind your own mind-set
Acknowledge all your emotions, including fears, frustrations and sadness, during the holidays. All those emotions are completely normal. Try to stay mindful, concentrating on what you are doing at any given moment, rather than letting your mind wander to your ever-growing to-do list. Stay focused on the positives: think about what you CAN accomplish instead of what you can’t; celebrate what your loved ones CAN do, rather than mourning what they can no longer participate in; appreciate the help you are receiving rather than resenting those who aren’t supportive. Negative thinking actually activates your body’s stress response so steer your mind elsewhere when you find yourself sliding down the slippery slope of negativity.
Keep self-care at the top of the list
It’s easy to let this slip when you’re even busier than usual – just when you need it the most. Keep it simple and incorporate it into your daily caregiving routine if possible. For example, make time for exercise. Exercise can boost your mood! Even something as simple as walking in a shopping mall, dancing to holiday music, or stretching or doing jumping jacks while watching holiday movies can help. Try yoga or meditation to help you sleep better. Limit sugary foods and alcohol that can affect your blood sugar. Relax with some aromatherapy, using scents such as citrus and lavender to soothe yourself.
Know your own best stress outlets
Only you know what works best for you as a stress reliever. It may be writing in a journal, laughing at a funny movie, talking with a friend, or going for a walk. Make a list of outlets you can keep handy when you start to feel stressed out.
Connect with support
With everyone so busy this season, online message boards or group can be a convenient way to seek support. And don’t forget professional help from a counselor or therapist.
Plan ahead and focus on what is most meaningful
Perfection is not the goal of the holidays – joy is! Cramming more into your already crazy schedule can push you over the edge, so consider what is really doable before you commit. Remember, you’ll be happier if you can go with the flow and expect the inevitable delay, crisis or disappointment. Above all, making good memories with your loved ones is especially valuable at this time.
Ask for help for yourself and those you care for
Now is the time to seek help with both your caregiving responsibilities and your holiday preparations or personal matters. Even if you don’t usually pay for help, consider doing so now, since hiring someone to assist for a few hours can be a huge relief. A personal assistant or concierge can complete items on your holiday to-do list or handle some of your home tasks, such as organizing mail, doing laundry, cleaning or running errands. You might also take advantage of paid care for your loved ones, including using individual caregivers, adult day care centers or respite care programs that can free you up for holiday activities.
Simplify your holiday activities
Many of us love to go all-out for the holidays, but it will be less stressful if you can scale back and find a way to simplify while still enjoying the spirit of the season. You could choose just a few decorations or foods that are most significant to you and feel doable, or cut back to two or three holiday activities that fill your heart with joy. Set limits and you’ll be OK.
Start new traditions
Instead of focusing on what you’re not doing, try doing something new. If cooking holiday meals is too much for you, eat out or order a prepared meal to have at home to give you more time with family and less time cleaning up. Give the gift of time or attention rather than costly presents. Attend a holiday concert you’ve never gone to before. Can’t make it to a holiday gathering? Use technology and have a video visit.
You can find these tips and many more resources for caregivers at AARP’s web site:
Resource for statistical data: