Caring for Yourself While Caregiving Through the Holidays
Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash
Even though it is a special season, the holidays are stressful—be it traveling, hosting and attending events, buying gifts, etc. The effort is even more so when one is already a caregiver—a demanding role in itself.
Whether you are a healthcare professional, family or a friend, caring for a loved one requires giving of your time and self. It is important that you do not neglect your own health in doing so. Remember: you can’t give help to someone else if you don’t have the help to give.
To begin with, know your limits. Set them. Stick to them. We all have limits, but it is easy to forget or ignore them in our service. You know where your boundaries should be so don’t ignore them or feel inadequate for not going beyond them.
Your limits are important for maintaining a balance. Balance is necessary so that you can continue to provide the level of care that your loved one needs. If you don’t spend some time respecting your limits and maintaining your own balance, you may struggle to find the strength that you need to care for them.
For the sake of maintaining balance, continue to do things you enjoy. If you have standing appointments with friends, such as a regular dinner or card game, continue it! Spending some time caring for your own needs and being around other people you enjoy will help you to better serve the person you are caring for.
Sometimes you just need a break though, and that is nothing to feel guilty for! There are actually levels of hospice care just for this purpose—to allow the caregiver a chance to take a break and recharge themselves. As human beings we require rest and reset, it’s the same reason we must sleep at night. The same applies for how we direct our time, effort and energy.
While looking after your own body and mind to keep yourself able to care for your loved one, do not neglect your spirit as well. Feeding your own spirit is a big component of avoiding burnout and depression. Pray, meditate, exercise or practice your own spirituality in whichever manner you choose. Be aware and mindful during these times. Listen to yourself and your spirit to better identify your own needs for care and those of your loved ones.
Knowing and understanding these ideas is one thing, but putting them into practice and utilizing their benefit is another. You may try journaling or another form of expressions to release your feelings. Write in a journal, type in a document on your computer or create some form of art if you are so inclined. Even a meaningful conversation with a trusted and empathetic friend can help you to release, process and understand your many strong emotions at this time.
However you are able to look after yourself during this difficult season will be a positive step in the right direction. It is easy to get swept up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and especially difficult to care for yourself when you’re a caregiver to someone else. Remember that you are not neglecting them for yourself, you’re helping them by looking yourself: you have to fill your own well before you can pour out of it for someone else.
Holiday gatherings give us a chance to see loved ones that we may not often see. Usually this is a warm and happy occasion but sometimes it can lead to stark realizations of their state of health.
Last weekend, a cousin and I were helping sour grandparents perform some maintenance on their home for the holidays. As we left, my cousin remarked to me, “Wow, Grandpa really isn’t the same. He doesn’t remember things I tell him and repeats himself. It’s really sad to me.” I agreed and reminded him to focus on the positive and try to enjoy the time that we have left with Grandpa.
When I related this experience to Dr. TJ Hawkins, Director of Program Operations for Bridgeway Hospice, he told me that my cousin and I were experiencing a phenomenon known as “anticipatory grief.”
“Grief can come from a variety of factors, including loss of life, relationships, finances, health, communication, and others,” he says. “It is not an isolated process, there are many steps.”
Oftentimes we think of grieving as the process we go through when losing a loved one, but as Dr. Hawkins explains, we can be grieving the loss of our relationship with them, their health or even the simple act of communication with that loved on—even if they are still physically with us.
Fortunately, there are some concrete, blanket strategies to address grief, in all of its forms. These “3 Pillars” form the foundation of acceptance and healing of grief.
Pillar Number 1: Identity
All grief is also partly an identity crisis in some form. Loved ones, and our relationships with them, inform our sense of self. Stay aware. Acknowledge your feeling but also try to understand them. Focus on the positive: the good memories you have or the ones you can still make. Don’t neglect yourself in all of this.
Pillar Number 2: Accountability
Along those same lines, find someone that you can talk to. You need to speak with someone who will listen and be nonjudgmental. These feelings of grief and identity should be released to someone who can empathize with you but remain strong.
Pillar Number 3: Community
In addition to listening ears and people to ground you, you need a place for expression. This may be a support group (Bridgeway offers 8 different groups throughout the Metro Atlanta area) or it may be volunteering.
Essentially, you want to find a positive and constructive way to externalize the internal grief. This may be through helping others, it may be through a support group or it may be simply through talking one -on-one with a strong loved one.
Grief is a process and it takes time to heal. Remember to always focus on the good and to acknowledge and address your feelings.
Coping with grief during the holidays, whether from loss or illness of a loved one in hospice care, can turn a typically warm and joyous time into a difficult and draining time. The holiday season is steeped in memories of years past and can make us feel sad when we remember fond times with our loved ones. While this time may not be easy, there are some steps that you can take to make it more manageable.
Acknowledgement – Accept the difficulty, not the guilt.
Grief is the process of healing, but it is just that: a process. Acknowledging and accepting from the beginning that this time will be difficult is one of the most helpful things you can do. The feelings of sadness are natural and should be experienced in order to pave the way for healing. Numbing the pain, through alcohol or other means, can be tempting but ultimately prolongs real healing.
Sometimes, the bereaved may feel guilty by their sadness during what is typically a happy time. Allow yourself to accept that this is a difficult time and it is different from previous holidays. Anticipating holiday events can be just as difficult as the events themselves, so face this time directly and decide how you will personally approach this season. While these times will be painful (especially if it is the first year without your loved one), learning to manage them is an important milestone for grief.
Have boundaries and control only what you can control
However you approach this season, let it be the way that you choose to approach it. Don’t let guilt or tradition make you feel obligated to do things a certain way. While it may be tempting to skip the holidays altogether, this will not alleviate the grief and will deprive you of warm and healing human connection.
This does not mean that you must do things the same way you have in the past. You may find it helpful to skip some of the “holiday rush” by doing shopping online, letting others do the hosting or cooking, etc. Try to stay physically active as well, since exercise is a very helpful remedy for depression. Additionally, you may find a good outlet through journaling, writing and other forms of expression.
Honor their memory but create new traditions
While the holidays are steeped in tradition, try to modify them to serve the memory of your loved one while including new loved ones. Don’t pretend everything is the same when it isn’t. Acknowledging the absence allows others to express their feelings and allows for more openness between everyone.
Including new family and friends into existing or past traditions can help to bridge the gap between holidays past and holidays present. You may also want to start a completely new tradition. Doing something different can honor your lost loved one’s memory for years to come, just don’t forget to include others that you care for.
Do for others
It is the season of giving, but you might not feel like it. Try to be kind in giving or doing for others anyway and you may find yourself surprised by how richly rewarded you feel despite your grief. Consider doing so in honor of your loved one. Try inviting someone new or in need to your holiday gatherings. If you’re up for it, volunteering may help keep you engaged and give you another outlet for the love and kindness you shared with your loved one.
Receive from others – Ask for help
Just because it is the season of giving doesn’t mean you shouldn’t receive. Time spent with others who love and support can be the best gift you’ve ever gotten. Remember, it’s okay to be sad so there is no need to feel guilty. Don’t forget to let family and friends know of your new or changed plans and activities for the holidays.
While you don’t want to isolate yourself, it is important to find some quiet time to reflect and remember but don’t let that outbalance the time spent with others who care for you. You may also find benefit from support groups which can be very effective and healthy around this time.
This season will pass soon enough so while you are grieving, try to focus on the good memories you have while creating new ones.
Happy Holidays from Bridgeway Hospice