By Margery Pabst
Margery Pabst is a writer, speaker, facilitator and an expert in personal and family communications. Her four books explore some of life’s key transitions—moving your family, leaving home, and retiring. Her most recent book, Enrich Your Caregiving Journey, emphasizes how to take care of yourself while caring for others. Practical tips are introduced through a series of engaging stories and the reader is invited to use a personal journal section at the end of each chapter. For more information, see www.pivotalcrossings.com.
As the holidays approach, and swiftly take over your time, energy and focus, feelings of listlessness and possibly depression can take over. You may feel as if you are stuck on the holiday path, and when it abruptly ends, feelings of exhaustion and a “what’s next?” mentality prevail. The caregiver is already overwhelmed, but when holiday anxieties are factored in, the stress can hit an all-time high. Here are some tips to follow to prevent the holiday doldrums from taking over both in December and January.
Be selective for celebrations. Save some get-togethers for mid-January. Remember that there is no need to push everything into a small about of time. Thinking you can take care of the patient, family, food, presents, vacation plans, holiday parties, and decorations is unrealistic. Take this time to relax, and relieve yourself of stressful holiday responsibilities. Remind yourself that the only expectations are the ones you have put on yourself over the years. Everybody risks overload during the holidays, especially caregivers. Feel free to take a few deep breaths, and save some of the celebrations and festivities until mid January. Permit yourself to save a couple of gifts to unwrap after the holidays. Plan something special for mid to end January. Allow yourself a recovery and reassessment period after December.
Avoid holiday décor stresses. After Thanksgiving, many people begin putting up holiday decorations. While it is easy to go overboard as you shovel through the storage and unearth décor of holidays past, remember you will also be responsible for the clean up and removal of decorations. Do not put more responsibility on yourself than you can handle. While many decorations may hold sentimental value, too many decorations can be overwhelming. If you are on your own, remind yourself that these decorations will only be up for about a month. If you can, ask family or neighbors for help. Asking for help for any matter helps to strengthen a sense of community and family. When the time comes to take the decorations down, the thoughtful caregiver will put something up in place, possibly a few Valentine’s Day decorations or an old family heirloom.
Involve the patient in planning. Involving the patient in planning, of holidays or otherwise, provides the patient with goals and a sense of empowerment. The patient will anticipate events and activities, and will have new things to look forward to. For instance, if the patient is recovering from a knee surgery, make plans for post knee surgery adventures (hiking trails, museum exhibitions, and theatre events). If the patient is recovering from or living with a more serious ailment, plan smaller and more accessible celebrations. As author Margery Pabst writes in her book Enrich Your Caregiving Journey, “Create a celebration that is customized to your situation. Find opportunities to celebrate even small progress…celebrate your love as a family and/or group of friends.”
Create realistic New Year’s resolutions. Many people list the same resolutions from year to year, and give up halfway into the new year. Create doable resolutions, or affirmations like, this year I will take care of myself or this year I will acknowledge my importance. They may seem simple, but the moment you give yourself permission to take proper care of yourself, you will start feeling better.
This holiday season, allow yourself the time and space you need to relax and take care of yourself. As I mention in my book, "Enrich Your Caregiving Journey," you, along with other caregivers, broaden the community of caring for everyone. As a caregiver, you run the risk of exhaustion, frustration, and burnout. Do not let the holidays further add to your heavy workload. This holiday, take a holiday for yourself.