There are a lot of things we’d love to carry over into the new year, such as vacation time and the holiday bliss. Conversely, there are many things we would like to leave behind: terrible eating habits, lack of exercise, and chronic procrastination. As you think about approaching the new year, take a few minutes to examine your current habits. Are you a caregiver who is reluctant to ask for help when needed? If so, we want you to let go of the notion that you should never ask for help. (As a matter of fact, we actually want you to start planning for it! But we’ll talk about that a bit later).
Looking forward to a great new year starts with a positive mindset and a reexamination of previous thought patterns. If you find it challenging to ask for help, you are certainly not alone. A Onepoll study reported that 3 in 4 people do not ask for help until they have reached a point of desperation (see, Wehrli 2022). So, while you might view asking for help as challenging, we encourage you to view it as being courageous.
Are there any other thought patterns you would like to change in the new year? Once you have identified those patterns, it will take intentionality on your part to take corrective action and reframe them. One way of reframing previous thought patterns is by using positive affirmations, or statements that are repeated regularly to help affirm a personal belief. For example, we believe that it takes a courageous person to ask for help (we hope you believe this too), so your daily affirmation might be “I am courageous, I will ask for help”. It is essential for caregivers to address both their personal and emotional needs; however, we know these often get neglected while caring for your loved one so consider this affirmation, “I will care for myself the same way I care for others”.
It may be difficult to repeat a statement that you are not yet fully convinced of as true or even practical. Our suggestion is to post your affirmations or positive statements around your house and at your place of work. You can also search the internet for an electronic image that contains your favorite statement, scripture or inspirational quote and make it your wallpaper on your smartphone or other electronic devices that are frequently used (e.g., tablets, laptops, refrigerators with smart capabilities). Make sure your affirmations are placed in an area that is visible and frequently visited.
Sometimes our habits prevent us from having a positive mindset. Consider your social media scrolling activity. Much has been written about how social media usage is linked to anxiety and depression. Speaking from personal experience, we could not agree more. Of course, as with most things, it isn’t all bad so we’re not advising a complete ban on social media. However, replacing scrolling time with an activity such as journaling can help to bring calm, introspection, and even gratitude.
Do you cringe at the thought of planning? (Yes, create a positive affirmation for this as well if necessary)! Life as a caregiver is both rewarding and challenging. While there are sure to be days filled with many unknowns, planning ahead can be a huge game changer. For instance, some people plan in advance what meals they will cook for an entire week. Others plan their outfits for each day of the upcoming week (and may go as far as actually ironing each outfit ahead of time). We are certainly in favor of the aforementioned ideas, but perhaps it’s just not your cup of tea. There are different levels of planning. Some planning even consists of multiple phases. But in an effort to inspire you to plan, we want to let you know that planning is as simple as creating a to-do list. All you need to do is take note of some reoccurring tasks and simply list them (on paper or in your smartphone) in the order in which you plan to carry them out on a specific date. Once those tasks are completed, cross them off. Whatever has not been crossed off, carry over to the following day. It’s just that simple!
While you are composing your to-do list, don’t forget to solicit help. For example, one thing to write on your to-do list might be “call [name] and ask for help watching dad next month”. We highly encourage you to prioritize any and all opportunities and offers of help.
Dr. Wayne Baker, a professor at University of Michigan School of Business, addresses the reluctancy to ask for help and suggests that people are very generous and will help if asked. He proposes making a “SMART” request when asking for help, which is an acronym for: specific, meaningful, action, realistic, and time. Baker asserts making your request for help specific. Additionally, it should be meaningful, and inform the other party of why you are making the request in the first place. Request for a specific action to be carried out by the other party but make sure the request is realistic. Lastly, set a specific deadline for the desired request to be completed.
Whether your hesitancy is due to the fear of simply making the request for help itself, or the lack of confidence in others’ ability to care for your loved one, you may feel better starting off by making small requests and building from there.
In addition to scheduling family and close friends to assist with your loved one, we want to encourage you to look to other outlets. Seek help from in-home care companies such as those which allow a high degree of personalization and customization. A more personalized experience will give you greater peace of mind that your loved one is being well cared for. Also, search for local church and community programs that offer daytime programs or activities for older adults or people with disabilities. Some of these programs may even provide transportation. If you are a full-time employee, check with your HR department to find out what resources may be available to you and your loved one. Be on the lookout for federal funding and initiatives aimed at supporting caregivers (check for more information at https://www.usa.gov/disability-caregiver).
Regularly plan to make time for self-care. A recent study reported that more than 50% of caregivers feel isolated. While caregiver support groups are great for connecting with other caregivers who share similar experiences, consider making social connections outside of caregiver support groups. Many of us wear multiple hats and it is normal to have an identity outside of caregiving. Explore some special interest groups and maybe even consider trying something completely new and unexpected!
Finally, let’s talk about distractions. Sometimes they provide much needed respite from the stress of daily life. In that sense, it can be healthy and a welcome break. However, unchecked distractions become time killers and that can ultimately lead to more stress.
Commit to being more intentional and aware of how you spend your time. We know how precious your time is, and we bet it’s the one thing you wish you had more of. While we do encourage you to use those electronic devices for planning and management, make sure you don’t find yourself traveling down the rabbit hole (that is, getting stuck on social media, shopping, gaming, etc.) constantly scrolling for extended periods of time. Use your time wisely! We recommend scheduling these “distraction breaks” on your calendar with a specific start and end time. Then, hold yourself accountable for sticking to that planned time.
Oftentimes people view a new year as an opportunity for a fresh start; but a fresh start does not come without intentionality. We can’t control everything happening around us, but we can control our mindset and habits and with a little planning we can better manage those things which cause stress. We hope that you can ring in the new year with plenty of support from your family and friends and maintain that through the year ahead. Have a happy new year!
Baker, Wayne. “How to Overcome Your Reluctance to Ask for Help at Work.” Greater Good Magazine, 16 Nov. 2020, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_overcome_your_reluctance_to_ask_for_help_at_work.
Wehrli, Ashley. “It's Not Just Mom: 3 in 4 People Don't Ask for Help.” Moms Newsparenting, 2 Feb. 2022, https://www.moms.com/3-in-4-people-dont-ask-for-help/#:~:text=A%20new%20survey%20has%20found%20that%203%20in,to%20others%20around%20them%20when%20they%20are%20drowning.