AARP AARP States West Virginia

Diminish Caregiver Stress Over the Holidays

This article was submitted a guest commentator. The article focuses on diminishing caregiver stress during the holidays. The article was submitted by Jane Marks, AARP West Virginia State President.
It is the holiday season, a season representing joy, peace, and love.  I love this time of year- the music, the sentiments, the lights, and the special meaning behind the celebrations.   However, it can also be the season of busy, of expectations, of long standing traditions, and …frankly…extra chores.   You know this is true!  All the activities, gatherings, and expectations, can be wonderful but exhausting.  This can be especially true for family caregivers. 

There are 48 million family caregivers across this country and about 300,000 right here in West Virginia.  These are individuals providing care for a loved one at home that can include everything from performing nursing tasks, to  personal care, household chores, coordinating appointments, transportation, meal preparation, shopping — you name it. And that’s not all: 6 out of 10 family caregivers hold down jobs outside the home.

I was one of those – a family caregiver and holding down a full time job. Family caregivers are always tired, always stretched thin, but the holidays seem to compound that feeling. I recall being so tired and overwhelmed!  My joy surrounding the holiday season was overshadowed by my exhaustion.  The tasks that had once been so much fun seemed too much to manage.  Then I felt guilty.  A particular group of friends had come to expect me to host the holiday gathering for us all.  My adult children expected a well-decorated tree with all our sentimental ornaments.   I didn’t want to disappoint anyone but all I really wanted was to pull my hair out and then take a long nap!

One of the reasons I am proud to be involved with AARP is their focus on caregivers.  AARP gets it!  That’s why AARP has a comprehensive website for caregivers – aarp.org/caregiving.  This site has a wealth of articles, guides, and resources.  It’s why we have the Family Caregivers Discussion Group on Facebook, a safe way to bring caregivers together, let them know they are not alone and help foster the sharing of information and advice and provide encouragement.

So if I may, I would like to give you some suggestions, actually give you permission to do some things or NOT do some things that may relieve a bit of your holiday stress.  More importantly, I want to give you a nudge to nurture yourself – even just a little - this holiday season.  My philosophy is that you and the person for whom you care are two halves of a whole. We at AARPWV want both halves to receive good care.  Sometimes you have to be the one to care for you.

To borrow a popular phrase coined by comedian Kevin Hart – his now famous “You do you, Boo”, phrase.  I suggest, “YOU do YOU “this holiday season.   What do I mean? Well, I do NOT mean you simply walk away – drop your caregiving role - certainly not! However, a few changes this year may allow you to enjoy more of the season and relieve some of your stress.   

How do you go about “doing you”?  Well, perhaps you continue to be concerned about Covid 19.  You continue to take certain precautions.  So if YOU prefer to only have those who are vaccinated come to your home this holiday season, or wear masks when they visit, don’t worry about what others think about it.   State that request.  You do you.

This year you might tell the family you are not going to make 14 dozen of Grandma’s secret recipe cookies to distribute to all the family members.  If they want cookies, they can make them.  You do you this year.

This holiday season you might finally take up the offer from your neighbor who always says, “Let me know if you need anything.”    You might ask that person to run an errand.  Better yet ask them to stay with your loved one for a couple of hours so you can….drive around and look at the lights, attend a holiday concert, or get a pedicure or TAKE THAT NAP. You do you, even for just for a few hours.

Maybe this is the year you don’t cook the huge family meal.  It’s about the coming together and your well-being, not the food. So, order take out – you do you!

These are just a few suggestions. I hope you can think of more.  I read a wonderful quote recently by a Buddhist monk, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Compassion is one characteristic of a good caregiver.  In your efforts to be the best caregiver you can be, remember to extend some compassion to you too. That is YOUR gift to YOU this holiday season. 

In taking on the role of caregiver, you have already shown great courage. Have the courage to nurture yourself this holiday season.  

Best wishes to you and yours this holiday season,

Jane

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