For many people, the holidays and New Year’s Eve hold lots of promise and joy. Everyone has the usual stresses of families visiting, money worries over gift purchases, and concerns about excessive calories consumed, but for many the stresses are short-lived. There are plans to send visiting families back to their own homes, un-decorate the house, and focus on normal life with all its social activities. There are resolutions to go to the gym and eat better. For many caregivers, however, family visits were invasions of people who still didn’t help out enough with the loved one’s care, people who second-guessed, or criticized the caregiver. The new year may be filled with dread, not hope, as the loved one will continue to decline while demands on time will rise; financial resources will continue to dwindle; the future will appear bleak. For many caregivers, 2017 doesn’t seem like it will be any better than 2016.
For those who are facing the New Year with dread because of caregiving stress:
Allow yourself time to be sad that your holiday was hard and the coming year doesn’t seem to hold much hope for improvement.
It’s okay to wallow for a few days, at most. But then you must get back on top of the horse.
Make a game plan. What can you do to make your life easier?
- Is there a sibling you can strongly encourage to help out more? Can you call your brother and say, “I want you to be here every Saturday from 9am to 1pm (or longer) so I can get some time for myself”? Can you call your sister and say, “Meals are getting harder to prepare because Mom is getting into trouble around the house when I’m not watching her. Could you please send me some gift cards for restaurants that deliver?” Pizza might be a good delivery option. Be sure to get pizza with some vegetables on it or a side salad.
- Can you ask or hire a neighbor to walk the dog for you?
- Can you have groceries delivered? Some grocery stores and Amazon will deliver to your home. It will save you time and stress.
- Exercising, eating healthy food, and getting enough sleep are ideal, as you know, but that might not be realistic. Try to treat yourself with a walk, fresh produce, and 8 hours of sleep once in a while though. You deserve it and you will have more energy and better health.
Worldwide, people are focusing on the serious problem of loneliness in aging people living in their own homes. Caregivers often face the same problem. You are taking care of someone who has advanced dementia and she cannot carry a conversation with you. You often talk to yourself or to no one except her doctor or pharmacist. You do not attend gatherings or parties because you cannot leave your loved one alone and have no respite care arrangements. You are lonely and it adds to your depression. What can you do?
- Get online. Keep up with people on Facebook where you can exchange actual words with people, not just photos. Look for online caregiver forums. There are literally millions of people around the world in your situation. You can understand them and they can understand you. Online friendships can offer support, camaraderie, and a solution for loneliness.
- Talk to your next-door neighbors. Go outside every day and say hello to someone. Even a small chat and a smile can be uplifting. Keep the conversation positive.
- Can you handle a pet? An older dog or cat that just wants to lie on the couch beside you or follow you around while you do laundry can provide companionship for you and your loved one. Only bring a new pet into your world if it’s going to be easy, though. Don’t take on a sickly, problem pet that needs frequent vet visits or behavioral intervention. Like you don’t have enough on your plate already?
- Bring free animals into your world. Feed birds, squirrels, or even deer if it’s easy for you. (Hummingbirds are pretty and fun to watch but taking care of their feeders is a bit time-consuming.) Take a few minutes to watch these animals outside your window while you wash dishes or fold laundry. Get to know which sparrow visits the feeder most frequently or which squirrel chases off the other squirrels. Again, this is something you and your loved one might both enjoy.
Maintain your perspective.
In most cases, your caregiving situation isn’t permanent. You will walk away from the assignment at some point whereas your loved one likely will not. There are cases where the caregiving goes on for decades and the caregiver dies before the loved one, but those scenarios are not the most common. Keep in mind that you are performing an amazing service to another human, whether it feels appreciated or not. Do your best to stay positive and EXPECT that the happiness and peace you so well deserve will come your way. You are entitled to goodness and happiness and Life wants to provide you with it!
Use your imagination.
Think about the future you would like to have when you are no longer a caregiver and you have moved passed the grieving. Dream big! Picture what you will do with the extra time you’ll have. Do you want to travel? Throw parties? Date? Sleep-in? Buy a kitten? In your mind, go for it and don’t worry about money or how you will accomplish your dreams. Just give yourself time for a 5-15 minute mental escape every day. You deserve it and will begin putting the results into motion just with your thoughts. Please don’t feel guilty about these fantasies. You have the right to be happy.
2017 can be a good year for you, too! Take some steps to make your life and your mental health better. Know that there are many people around the world fighting for the betterment of caregivers like you. They are trying to make changes in your financial health. They are cheering for you and rooting for you because you are the epitome of a good person. (Even if you don’t think good thoughts all the time!) You contribute to the well-being of millions of people and we want to help you.
With love, respect, and good wishes for your New Year,
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