Most of us go into the holiday season with the expectation we can get it all done ― the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning; decorating the house and wrapping gifts; writing the perfect greeting cards and even mailing them early! With everyone wishing us “Happy Holidays,” and “Merry Christmas,” we get the message that we should be feeling happy and warm and filled with joy. But often holiday preparation can feel like just one more thing to do on top of working and taking care of our families. Feeling that we must live up to the perfect Hollywood version of the holidays can result in feelings of stress and anxiety.
Professional and family caregivers may feel an added pressure. We recognize that our home-bound, disabled and/or elderly clients and loved ones may feel isolated during the holidays, and that the loss of loved ones is often felt more acutely during this time of year. We want them to have a wonderful holiday and experience the positive feelings they had when they were younger. Is this realistic? Is this even what our older adults want?
In April 2012 The Atlantic published an article, How to Care for Your Aging Loved Ones While Still Taking Care of Yourself, by Hans Villarica. In the article, the author refers to a study of the attitudes of 65 disabled elders. Eighty-five percent of these older adults rated their lives as “fair to good,” which is “definitely higher than some might assume it would be for older people with disabilities.” And when asked what makes a good day, “their answers were typically mundane: the morning’s cup of coffee, a walk with the dog, music, or a short conversation with a loved one. Seniors feel the best when they’re at peace with their lives. Paying attention to the small, comforting pleasures in the end can — and often do — outweigh the rest.”
Providing companionship and taking the time to create those “small, comforting pleasures” during the holidays will usually be enough to brighten the lives of those we care about and take the pressure off the caregiver. These pleasures may include:
- Playing familiar holiday music.
- Decorating the client or family member’s home or room.
- Talking about holiday memories.
- Using watercolors to paint a picture of a holiday memory.
- Looking at family photos.
- Watching a holiday movie.
- Taking a drive to see decorations and holiday lights.
- Looking through holiday catalogs and talking about what you see.
- Baking and decorating holiday cookies to eat and give as gifts.
But it is not enough to focus only on your clients and loved ones. It is also important to focus on ourselves and practice self-care, particularly during the cold, winter holiday season. Doing so can help avoid, or at least decrease the stress, and reduce the chance of getting sick. One aspect of self-care is maintaining a healthy work/life balance. This includes engaging in stress-reducing activities such as those listed in the online article, 10 Ways for Caregivers to Practice Self Care. These include:
- Prioritize your physical needs – that means eating well, exercising, and sleeping 7-8 hours each night.
- Make time to relax. Even if you only have a few minutes, have a cup of tea or listen to some favorite music.
- Take a day off. If you are feeling burned out, find a way to take a break by speaking to your supervisor (paid caregiver) or, for family caregivers, asking for help and/or seeking respite care from a company like Family Resource Home Care.
- Practice mindfulness. Meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi are shown to have real benefits.
- Remember your boundaries. It’s easy to become over-involved with your client or loved one but remember your own limits and set appropriate boundaries.
- Get outside. Spending time in nature can help relieve stress. Even if you cannot get away, taking a walk in a neighborhood park can be enough to calm and refresh you.
- Keep your sense of humor and practice positive thinking.
Caring for others may have high demands, but it is also one of the most needed and important jobs you may ever have. So, when you start to feel stressed, remember that you are respected and appreciated for all that you do. And if that doesn’t work, give us a call.