Caregiving, for many, can be exhausting, overwhelming, or even lonely at times. And yes, while there are definitely many positives to caregiving, for example the sense of being intrinsically rewarded from taking care of a loved one who once cared for you, or even experiencing personal growth and finding purpose as noted by the American Psychological Association, you still might find yourself summing up caregiving in one single word—stressful. If you throw in a partridge in a pear tree, a few jingle bells, and a few visitors (especially the relatives who are never available to share in the caregiving responsibilities but have no trouble making their way over to grandma’s place every holiday) then you my friend, just might be working up a recipe for a disastrous holiday season. That is, if you do not speak up. This holiday season first, make a declaration to yourself to be your own advocate and second, reach out for a helping hand.
Caregiver stress, or the emotional and physical stress of caregiving, is very common among caregivers. Those suffering from caregiver stress can experience feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, and a loss of interests in everyday activities, among other emotional and physiological ailments.
This holiday season—and even after that Christmas tree comes down, and all your fancy dishware goes back into the curio for another 12 months—be attentive to your health. Recognize if you are suffering from caregiver stress and don’t be afraid to acknowledge it and speak up. “Out of sight out of mind” isn’t always the best remedy for stress as we know unaddressed stress can manifest into an uncontrollable beast, and spill over into other facets of our daily lives. Carefluent encourages you to take an active approach to tackling stress beginning with advocating for yourself! How can you take care of your loved one if you’re not taking care of yourself? When you are traveling by plane, aren’t you always instructed, in the case of an emergency you are to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others? Sometimes we fail to apply this very crucial principle in other settings. We are oftentimes inundated with images of perfectly set tables, beautifully presented feasts, and the perfect holiday outfit (or outfits if that’s your thing)! This year we are giving you a pass to let go of the need for perfection. Let it all go! Go ahead and purchase a pre-cooked holiday meal (we promise we won’t tell)!
Are you employed full-time outside of providing care for your loved one? As we mentioned in our previous post, nearly 73% of employees reported having some type of current caregiving responsibilities. If you are employed outside of caregiving, we recommend sitting down with your company’s human resource officer and shedding light on your dual roles as a caregiver and full-time employee. See if they can assist you with finding additional resources for caregivers, or perhaps they could even provide you with company-sponsored resources. Sometimes it takes just one person to raise a human resource department’s awareness of the lack of employee resources to prompt the company to reconsider their current benefits package and add benefits that support employee caregivers.
Now, let’s talk about taking a temporary break from caregiving. Would you be willing to allow other relatives to share in the responsibilities of taking care of your loved one during this holiday season? Or are you waiting for them to offer to help? Be realistic with yourself about the likelihood of others offering a helping hand—keep in mind, we don’t know your relatives like you know your relatives! Have you heard the saying “a closed mouth doesn’t get fed”? It’s true, some people will not offer help unless a personal invitation is extended, no matter the heavy weight you might be carrying. But in defense of (maybe even the smallest fraction of) your relatives, for a quick minute, let’s just put the shoe on the other foot. Have you ever been that person guilty of sitting back and watching while someone seemingly struggles with lifting a heavy load? Maybe you were thinking “wow, that looks pretty heavy” but perhaps the person carrying the heavy load made it look so easy and effortless. Sometimes others can be unaware of the heavy burden you are carrying if you have not vocalized it to them. So, if (or when) feelings of resentment begin to fester up against those relatives who are absent from caregiving, consider that it may not be due to selfishness after all. Maybe it’s because they simply see you as the superhuman that you truly are, and they may not realize you need the help. Or, is it possible they’re even conflicted by the thought of offering to do “your” job. Maybe they’ve thought to themselves, “hmm, would this offend them if I insisted on helping out”? Think about it, if you went to someone’s workplace, and asked them “hey, do you want me to help you do your job”? A job in which you are highly skilled and have been outwardly carrying on perfectly fine without others’ assistance, how well would you receive that proposition? There are a number of reasons one may not offer to help. Maybe they lack the confidence of filling your shoes. Nevertheless, you won’t know until you ask! Asking as well as accepting help doesn’t make you less of a superhero, it just makes you human. (Remember, even our favorite superheroes are part human).
So, while those relatives are making arrangements to visit your loved one this holiday season, go ahead and extend the invitation to share in the caregiving. Let them know how much it would mean to you if they were able to commit to even one or two hours of caring for your loved one. If they can commit to more time, even better! But you will never know until you ask.
We know that the makeup of every family differs. Maybe you and your loved one whom you are caring for live hundreds or even thousands of miles away from relatives. Maybe your relatives are unwavering in their commitment to social distancing due to the increasing number of COVID-19 variant outbreaks. Maybe their wallets have taken a hit (like the rest of us) due to inflation and traveling just isn’t practical this holiday season. Whatever the case, finding creative ways to connect with relatives and friends can help you avoid feeling isolated. For example, scheduling video conference calls with aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews provides an opportunity for you to keep everyone updated on the health and wellbeing of the loved one you are caring for. It’s the ideal way to have much-needed conversations about your own health and wellbeing as a caregiver and a time to ask for help whenever needed. One topic might be everyone contributing whatever they can to a fund for short-term in-home respite care for your loved one. Talking openly and honestly about the situation can often lead to very creative solutions that you may not have considered.
Lastly, remember you are more than just a caregiver! So, tap into the complete you. The you who loves writing poetry. The you who enjoys sitting down, and binge watching your favorite series. The you who loves D-I-Y projects! We know that you spend a significant amount of time with your loved one and it is our hope that you have more in common than simply a transactional homecare relationship. Providing an enriching, and positive environment for your loved one not only improves their quality of life but it will also improve yours. So, consider doing some of your favorite activities with your loved one. Make sure these activities have meaning and purpose for the both of you. If you feel that you have exhausted all options and you are not already connected to a support group, consider joining one. Support groups can serve as a valuable outlet during highly stressful seasons as you connect with others who share similar experiences as you. We understand the stress the holiday season might bring, but always remember that you are not alone. Delegate when possible. Speak up and let your voice be heard.