November was National Family Caregivers Month, but December is an equally important time of year to celebrate caregivers. The holiday season is filled with enthusiasm and excitement shared with family, friends and colleagues, yet too often it is also the season of stress. Though the emotional toll of caregiving is year-round, it is during the holidays that caregivers may feel the hardship the most. No matter if you are caring for youth or others with chronic illness, medical crisis, or extended rehabilitation, caregiving is no easy task. Below are some helpful tips for easing the emotional burden of caregiving, especially around the holidays:
- Learn as much as you can about the loved one’s condition
Being well informed and confident is essential to avoiding stress. Learning about your loved one’s condition not only helps to de-stress, it helps build the confidence necessary to feel peace of mind both at home as well as when communicating with health professionals, friends, and family. If your loved one is faced with a rare disease, you may feel isolated in your quest for knowledge. For example, those looking for information on mesothelioma, a rare cancer that typically sees only about 3,000 new diagnoses each year, may need more support because information on specialists and treatment options is less available.
- Stay organized
Being able to efficiently locate your loved one’s information, documents, and personal medical information will also help manage your stress. Make sure to keep everything you may need in one easy and accessible place. Don’t be afraid to use colorful folders, bright post-it notes, or fun stickers to make the organization a little more personalized and fun.
- Set realistic goals
Having an attainable action plan for yourself as caregiver, and also for your loved one, is extremely important. This will allow you the opportunity to reflect on and measure progress, and to set new goals. Creating solutions together with your loved one helps strengthen your bond, enhances communication, and encourages mutual understanding.
- Accept help
Notice when you are running low on time, energy, and resources. When people offer to help, accept it. You do not need to do it on your own. Join an online or in-person support group and seek out other caregiving support. Be open and honest when expressing your needs. This helps those trying to support you. If you are upfront about how people can help, they won’t have to guess what they think you might need, which could not be what you really want.
- Recognize and thank the entire caregiving team
Especially during a busy time of year such as the holidays, plan ways to make all of your caregiving team members aware that you are thinking about them and that you appreciate them. A simple thank you goes a long way. There are many ways to show gratitude to your caregiving team such as sending a thank you card, sharing a memorable story, or even sharing comic strips with them.
6. Don’t forget for your own health too
This year’s National Family Caregivers month theme is “Take care, to give care.” Caregivers need their own personal strength to care for their loved one. Diet, exercise, sleep, alone time, or just “quality me time,” such as allowing time to pursue creative outlets is so important. Make sure your self-care goals are part of your action plan. Caregiving is hard and studies show that an estimated 46-59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed. Know the signs of depression and seek professional help if needed.
At the end of the day, caregiving is an all-encompassing responsibility. No matter your loved one’s age, illness, or disease, it is so important to remember that resources are available. First and foremost, remember to take care of yourself, before caring for others. It’s not selfish; it’s logical. Take care, to give care.
Visit the caregiving resources below for added insight.