For many of us, the holidays are a light-hearted time filled with parties, favorite foods and the chance to see more of our loved ones. But for those of us who look after an aging family member, the season may bring on overwhelming levels of stress.
Millions of us between the ages of 40 and 60 are providing care for our parents, grandparents or older siblings. The Pew Research Center confirms that one in eight Americans is part of the “sandwich generation,” struggling to care for seniors while still raising their own children.
When sociologists first began talking about this phenomenon in the 1980s, they were mainly referring to women, who did the lion’s share of caregiving and childrearing. But as roles evolve and our population ages, more and more men are providing elder care. In many families, adult partners struggle to care for several aging relatives while keeping up with their children’s health care, schooling, sports and social commitments. It’s a challenge that can strain finances, disrupt work schedules and spark tension in the best of relationships.
WHY THE HOLIDAYS ARE EVEN HARDER FOR CAREGIVERS
Without a doubt, caregiving is tough all year long. But the pressures we feel during the holidays tend to make the situation worse.
Suddenly, we’re expected to add even MORE to our already overfilled days. How can we make it to our child’s school pageant and still have time to take mom to chemotherapy? Will there be time for the soccer party and the neighbor’s potluck dinner when a loved one with dementia needs someone nearby, virtually around the clock?
The mixture of emotions we face as we try to balance the various demands in front of us can keep us off-balance. We may feel overcome with gratitude when a neighbor shovels our sidewalk, then feel guilty that we need so much help. The joy we see in our children’s faces may be tinged with sadness as we sit with a loved one who is widowed and grieving.
5 STRESS-BUSTING TIPS FOR FAMILY CAREGIVERS
Whatever your situation, there’s no doubt that you will face extra stress over the next few weeks. Here are a few simple steps you can take to ease the pressures and carve out just a little time and love for yourself.
- DON’T FIGHT BACK THE TEARS
You don’t have to be strong all the time. It’s totally all right to feel overwhelmed and even a little bit broken right now. The holidays bring out strong feelings about our past, present and future which overtake us at random moments. Letting a few tears fall will cleanse your spirit and remind you that, strong as you are, you’re only human after all.
- SAY “YES” WHEN PEOPLE OFFER TO HELP
People who care about you truly WANT to lend a hand. Let them. Accept support in all its forms, from the mac-and-cheese your neighbors bring to the full day of care your best friend provides so you can get out of the house for a while. Don’t feel ashamed. And don’t fall all over yourself trying to express your gratitude. A simple “thanks” is plenty. And while you’re at it, take a moment to feel fortunate that you’re surrounded by so much love.
- FLEX YOUR EXPECTATIONS
The author of a popular book on holiday stress encourages us to remember that the holidays are an entire season, not just one special day or week. Thinking of it this way gives us freedom to make new plans. We can move the traditional family dinner to a different night, scale it back or even skip it altogether. We can cancel travel plans and gather quietly at home instead. In future years, the old traditions may return, but for now, claiming the right to do what’s comfortable will make everything easier for you.
- MAKE ROOM FOR HAPPINESS, TOO
Caregiving can fill you with a sense of sadness, especially when you know that your loved one is unlikely to get better. But life will continue to offer you moments of pleasure and joy – if you allow them to break through. There’s nothing wrong with sitting in your car, singing holiday carols at full volume or enjoying a morning in the kitchen baking with your kids. Start a gratitude journal so you can remember the things that are going well. A few moments a day spent doing things you enjoy will replenish your spirit and create sweet memories to savor later.
5. PLAN SOMETHING JUST FOR YOU
How fantastic would it feel if, after the holiday rush is over, you gave yourself an afternoon off? You could visit a local tearoom with a new book, enjoy a massage or have a long, leisurely lunch with a friend. Having something delightful to look forward to may be just the motivation you need to meet the challenges of the busy weeks ahead.
CREATING THE LIFE YOU WANT, ONE SEASON AT A TIME
As a therapist working with adults of all ages Oak Park, I am here to support your wellbeing. If you are sandwiched between the demands of caregiving and family, I can help you map out the strategies you need to keep your life in balance. Please reach out to me anytime at 708-990-3867 or click here to schedule a confidential appointment.