The holidays are almost upon us with promises of delicious food, festive parties, and fun family gatherings! Right? Yes, but alongside those happy thoughts are visions of a mile long “To Do” list, text message “spending” alerts from your bank, and the onset of FTYFDOTJ (Fear That You’re Falling Down on the Job) in your caregiver duties. This year, prepare yourself for the holidaze with our Holiday Guide to Self-Care for Caregivers and set the stage for an amazing 2020!
CAREGIVERS ARE IN GOOD COMPANY
First things first – realize that you are not alone. A study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that approximately 43.5 million Americans are caregivers. The majority (82%) care for one adult, 15% care for two adults, and 3% for three or more adults. These statistics may not have a direct impact on your stress level, but there are many and varied organizations and resources that CAN provide relief when you are ready for it.
INDULGE IN CAREGIVER SUPPORT GROUPS
The truth is, there is no time off during the holidays for caregivers, but you can schedule time to spend time talking with others who are walking in your shoes. Several organizations can put you in touch with a group in your area so that you can connect in person. If you can’t get out of the house, there are online groups where you can chat with other caregivers. A sampling of those organizations includes:
• The free Eldercare Locator Caregiver Corner service can put you in touch with local support groups and other resources.
• The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ VA Caregiver Support Group has a Caregiver Support Line (1-855-260-3274) and Caregiver Peer Support Mentoring Program.
• The Family Caregiver Alliance operates the Caregiver-online support group, which provides caregivers a safe place to discuss the stresses, challenges, and rewards of caring for adults with chronic debilitating health conditions.
• The AARP has a vibrant Facebook group for caregivers – the AARP Family Caregivers Discussion Group – where you can share concerns and stories, ask questions, get advice and just vent!
ENLIST THE HELP OF KID CAREGIVERS
Your children can be a source of relief for you during their holiday breaks. Don’t underestimate them. Yes, they might roll their eyes and complain about having to tear themselves away from their phone/tablet/computer but let them know their help is important to you and they will immerse themselves in the task at hand.
The benefits? They get to spend time with a grandparent or family member who they rarely see due to busy school and homework schedules and you get an hour here and there to check items off of your holiday “to do” list. Some suggested activities for your kid caregiver:
• Read a book together – the classics are always good!
• Teach your grandparents about how to navigate the Internet.
• Make a video “documentary” about your grandparent’s life. Ask questions about their childhood, military service and careers, and what it was like to experience key historical events that happened before you were born.
• Ask your grandparent to teach you a skill you don’t know, like chess or knitting.
• Take a walk together. If your grandparent is in a wheelchair, take him or her on a walk – it’s good exercise!
GIVE THE GIFT OF CONNECTION
One of the great stresses of the holiday season is finding the “perfect” gifts for friends and family members who you have been gifting for years. Yes, there is more to the holidays than presents under a tree, but the reality is that gift exchanges are an important tradition for many.
Thoughtful gifts come in many packages. Why not give your senior relative the gift of connection? Sign them up for a daily/weekly call service that provides them with cheerful and light conversation based on their interests and offers an ear to listen when they need a pick-me-up or don’t feel so well. Companion Matters has a variety of call service packages that fit the needs of seniors who live alone or who have a full- or part-time caregiver.
As a caregiver, you realize that you cannot fulfill your parent’s every need and you should not have to. A call service steps in to supplement the amazing work you do every day!
GIVE THANKS FOR YOGA
Yoga is a tried and true self-care institution. There is something to be said for a practice that traces its roots to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago.
It’s a given that we all need to exercise to remain healthy and to relieve stress. Set aside 15, 20, 30, 45 or 60 minutes (if possible) to dedicate to this ancient art that has been proven to improve muscle strength, flexibility, balance, mobility, and mental health and wellness. Find a class at your local community center that has a senior program and you’ve got a win-win situation on your hands! If that isn’t available to you, there is a wealth of online yoga videos that you can find through a simple search on YouTube.
According to Jonathan Graff Radford, M.D., a member of the Mayo Clinic’s Research Faculty, yoga is particularly beneficial for caregivers.
“Studies indicate that caregivers who engage in regular yoga practice enjoy lower stress levels and better physical well-being. Research shows that yoga may help caregivers:
• Feel more capable in their caregiver roles
• Improve depression symptoms
• Lower anxiety levels
One study found that caregivers who participated in an eight-week yoga group saw physical and emotional benefits from the practice. Seeing those benefits appeared helpful in alleviating any guilt they felt for taking time for themselves.”
EAT, DRINK AND ASK FOR HELP, CAREGIVER!
Make time to go to a party, have a holiday lunch with friends or simply hide under your cozy blankets in bed and binge-watch Netflix. To do this, you may need to rely on the good hearts of family members, friends or even neighbors to take over your caregiver duties for a few hours or an evening. The people around you most likely already want to help, but don’t know how to offer! Take them up on it this holiday season!
Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself! You’ve got a lot on your shoulders year-round, so don’t add an extra layer of self-loathing to it! Chances are, your mother and/or father could use a break from you too (no offense intended)!
Caring for loved ones is what we do and leads to bonds that cannot be broken and lifelong memories. Remember this when you are feeling low or have a bad case of the holiday blues. The role you have taken on is a true gift of love to the family member who relies on you every day!