I am my mother’s caregiver, and I sat with my disabled mom as she cried. She had lost hope of seeing her other children during the holidays. Another holiday was slipping by and none of them had come by to visit her, again.
I didn’t blame her for being down. After all, I was the one who’d been there for the duration of her recovery and the decline of her health while my siblings carried on with their own lives. I felt her frustration. Just once, I kept telling myself, I’d like one of them to have mom at their home for the holidays. After all I had kids and grandkids I wanted to spend time with too
All this frustration leads to stress.
Dealing with stress as a caregiver is doubly hard than for a “normal” person. We’re already overwhelmed with our daily responsibilities. Add to that the stress of the holidays and we can easily fall victim to becoming stressed.
Not only are we faced with helping our loved one deal with the sadness that often accompanies holidays, we have to deal with our own emotions toward family and the loss of your freedom at this time. Add to that the financial stress that can come from being a caregiver. We’re under pressure to make the holidays joyful and uplifting for our loved one when all we really want to do is hide out in our bedroom until it’s all over.
All these crushing responsibilities can lead to making unhealthy choices – such as drinking more than normal, eating sweets, foregoing exercise and getting fewer hours of sleep. I’ve been there. I’ve been known to gain 10 pounds the few weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas, from all the cookies, sweets and unhealthy stuff I crammed in my mouth to make me feel better.
After many years of being a caregiver I’ve learned a few tricks to keep stress from wreaking havoc on the holidays for me and those around me.
Be aware of the signs that you are on the path to burnout.
As caregivers, we give all of ourselves over and over compounding that giving even more during the holidays! It can lead to high levels of stress or even burnout that happens before you know it. There was a time I was so overwhelmed by everything that I didn’t care about anything, including my mom, my family or even myself. My energy levels had plummeted. I was in a constant emotional, mental and physical state of exhaustion.
I felt like nothing I did ever made a difference. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I just wanted out. I finally recognized I was in burnout. If I didn’t get help soon, I wouldn’t be there to care for my loved one. You have to be aware of your emotional ups and downs, foggy thinking, and your general well-being.
Put your self-care needs first.
I was no longer taking the time to take care of myself and my needs. It was just easier to let my needs go by the wayside when I busier than usual during the holidays. It takes a toll on your health when you don’t put your self-care needs first.
Find time to fit in some exercise, even if it’s just a walk at the mall, dancing to holiday music in the kitchen or a little yoga in bed before you get up. If possible, take your loved one with you for a leisurely walk around the neighborhood to look at the holiday lights.
I started meditating and writing in a journal. Meditating helps me clear my mind so I can sleep better. I journal to get rid of all those frustrating and upsetting emotions I have a gazillion times a day. Another thing that helps you relax is using some type of aromatherapy—lavender or citrus can be calming.
Connect with others
In the end, if you are feeling overwhelmed during the holidays connecting with others going through the same situation is a great way to find support.
Caregiving is one of the most rewarding and one of the most terrifying things you can do. It has overwhelming amounts of stress and responsibilities that can be tripled during the holidays. If you learn to watch for burnout, take care of yourself first and connect with others, you can win the battle against stress during the holidays.
Carol Owens, a former caregiver, is an author, freelance writer, ghostwriter and editor as well as a virtual assistant. Carol was a full time caregiver for her disabled mom for eleven years. She has a way of adding a positive spin on any situation from caregiving to empty nesting. She can be contacted on her website, http://wwwcarolowens.com