How to put the Jingle back in your Holiday Bells: Advice for Stressed-out Caregivers this Holiday Season
According to a poll on AgingCare.com, an online community for folks who are caring for their aging parents, the pressures of the holiday season reap more stress on this particular category of people from Thanksgiving through the New Year holiday than at any other time during the year. The results of this poll are downright scary:
- Fifty-three percent of caregivers provide more than 40 hours of care to their parent(s) per week, and balance work and their own children too.
- Thirty-six percent of caregivers get a break of five hours or less weekly.
This kind of schedule will quickly zap the “ho-ho” out of anyone’s holiday.
What’s a beleaguered caretaker to do? While the easiest remedy would appear to be simply begging off every social invitation that comes your way, I’m instead going to suggest an approach to holiday merriment that adheres more to my usual tone: From this year forward, I urge you to take a more thoughtful approach to holiday socializing.
That’s right. As the main caregiver for your elderly parent, it is vital that you take the time to care for yourself, now more than ever. Family caregivers are known to have a higher incidence of illness than their non-caregiving peers. Who will care for your mom, dad, spouse and kids when you’re not well? Who will run your household, walk the cat, pet the dog (or vice versa) and help earn a living in your place? If you think about it from that perspective, it becomes far easier to take a proactive approach to (help) stave off illness by attempting to meet your happiness quotient.
Time spent engaging with peers, friends, colleagues (a.k.a. time away from your caretaking duties) will nourish your spirit and help ward off feelings of emotional starvation.
Right now you may be thinking, “Rabbi Saulson, clearly you haven’t spent a week in my life. How am I to partake in holiday merriment without making my life any more chaotic than it already is?”
Below is my list of five things you can do for yourself this season — and every holiday thereafter — to help make the load you carry just slightly less back-breaking:
- Seek respite care for your elderly parent. Respite care offers short-term care for dependent adults, thus offering the caregiver much-needed relief. Types of respite care include adult day care, in-home assistance, community agencies, and even help from family and friends. You, the full-time caregiver, need some time away from your duties, especially during the holiday season.
- Be creative. It’s true that your current caretaking duties may at times seem overwhelming, and yet somehow, this year you’ve committed to hosting Thanksgiving dinner (even if only because your brother refused to do it). Take a moment to think outside the box for a solution that will work within your current family dynamics. If mom is at her best in the mornings and early afternoons, who says that you can’t have a Thanksgiving lunch, right? Or, if you’re working right up until the holiday and you simply can’t manage company, plan a belated holiday dinner to take place during the weekend. Bend the rules. It’s okay!
- Make/keep a to-do list. Now especially, organization is the key to your productivity. Make a list daily of all you need to accomplish in that day, and don’t forget to refer back to it throughout the day. If you’re more of a “hit the ground running” type, make your list the night before.
- Recognize your limitations/ask for help. It’s difficult, I know. The fact is, we teach people how to treat us. It’s that simple. Friends and loved ones may not know how exhausted, frustrated, stressed, tired, or (insert emotion here) you have been feeling. Or they may… true. Either way, if you haven’t yet directly calmly stated your need for assistance with a task related to your mom and/or dad, the holiday season may be just the time to ask and receive. Besides, now that you’re all organized and keeping lists and whatnot, you’ll be better at recognizing how people can easily help you without having to go far out of their way. Maybe your best friend can drop Mom off at adult day care once a week while you have your morning off; your brother can use his great computer skills to create a spreadsheet to track Mom’s monthly expenses; and your husband can pick up dinner for the family once a week on his way home from work to give you this two hours off your feet once a week. You won’t know unless you ask, as it’s unlikely anyone will randomly offer these things you are seeking.
- Simplify. Minimalism is in. Pare down your holiday spending, your kitschy décor, your over-zealous cleaning before company comes to visit. Think of something (a routine, a recipe, a tradition, a task, etc.) that you can simplify in your life every single day. Better yet, think of two things a day, at least through the New Year, one holiday-related and one day-to-day task that can then be implemented into your days. (I can’t be certain, but I think this is how those mass, self-printed holiday newsletters came to be made popular versus the old-fashioned and time consuming hand-written holiday card, for example.) Make it a lifestyle change for a happier way of living.
I hope that those who caretake their aging parents will implement (at least some of) these strategies today. Any moments that you can take for yourself to recharge your spirit are critical to the wellbeing of not only yourself, but the wellbeing of your entire household.
I am here to offer support and counsel in any manner. My number one goal is to help families reach workable solutions to their situations through the acts of meaningful conversation and active listening.
Wishing you peace and happiness this holiday season and always.
All the best,
[Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.]