During the busy holiday seaso n, zeroing in on stress—what it is and how to cope with it—can be a vital part of self-care and burnout prevention for caregivers. A family caregiver experiences large and small changes in their life that may continue over time and make a usually stressful time, like the holidays, even more stressful.
The first step to relieving stress is to recognize when you are feeling it in a negative way, and what is causing those feelings. Stress can be described in a number of different ways:
- Stress can feel like the inability to cope with a real or imagined threat to your mental and emotional well-being. You could compare the effect on your body to a “fight or flight” response.
- Stressors can be physiological or emotional events that you perceive to be stressful or out of your comfort zone. What is stressful for one person might not be stressful for another.
- Stress can have a short-term or a long-term (chronic) negative effect on your mind and body.
- Stress can occur when the mind-body-spirit connection is out of balance. Negative thoughts can cause a physical response that makes your spirit feel “down” or even makes you physically sick.
Identifying stressors of the holidays that can be aggravated as result of your role as caregiver is the first step to relieving your stress. They can be physical, social, emotional, or economic. It can be helpful to make a list of what your stressors are. Some of the more common ones include:
- Less time for traditional activities, yourself, sleep, healthy eating, or exercise.
- Worries about finances. Wondering how to pay for holiday expenses along with new expenses related to caregiving.
- Responsibility for decisions, both day-to-day and those that affect the whole family, especially if they involve traditions that might have to change.
- A loss of time usually spent with friends during the holidays and general feelings of loneliness.
- Changing roles and dynamics within the family and arguments regarding care plans throughout the season.
- More physical work and all sorts of holiday chores added to the chores of being a caregiver.
- Not being sure about the kind of care your loved one needs, especially during what can be the chaos of the holidays.
Once you have identified the major causes of your stress, you can focus on what might provide some relief. Some stress-relieving or relaxation strategies can be incorporated into your daily routine. What works or what you can make time for varies from person to person.
Be mindful of how you are breathing. When we are under stress, our muscles tense up and breathing can become shallow and rapid. Breathe deeply and slowly. It is difficult to stay tense when you are breathing in a slow, deep and relaxed pattern. Breathe from your abdomen rather than your chest. With practice, breathing this way can seem normal, and you will notice yourself becoming more relaxed.
More humor and laughter can be added to your days without taking time away from any of your other responsibilities. It can be just a matter of perspective. You can choose to see what is humorous about a situation that you might otherwise react to with frustration, irritation or anger. Laughter truly can be “the best medicine.” It is good exercise, and it reduces specific stress hormone levels.
Recall humorous holiday memories, read a funny book, or watch a funny movie or TV show when spending time with your loved one. Try not to take yourself or your situation too seriously. It will help you and the one you are caring for feel more relaxed. Sometimes humor can be used to defuse what could be a stressful situation, rather than reacting with anger. Try to find humor in your days.
Asking for and accepting help, especially during the holidays, can relieve the stress of some of the things you don’t have time for. Hold a family meeting. Let everyone know what the care of your loved one requires and what is especially stressful for you to handle alone. Make specific suggestions as to what you think others could do to help. Even family members who don’t live close by can make virtual “visits,” or send an email, text, or letter about holiday activities in their family and memories of their time with the person you are caring for.
Graciously accept any help offered by neighbors or members of your religious congregation. Be open with them about your struggles. Free help and/or advice about resources may be available from your local Council on Aging, Senior Citizens’ Center, or online sites like ALZ.org. Fee-for-service resources that can help to relieve stress include Adult Day Care Centers and Meals on Wheels.
Dakota Home Care offers in-home services tailored to your stress-relieving needs. They include help with your loved one’s Personal Care, such as bathing, toileting, and dressing assistance; a Home Health Aide who helps with housekeeping, shopping, preparing meals and companionship, as well as an RN who can provide Skilled Nursing Care, if needed. Respite Care that allows you to leave home for a while could be especially helpful in relieving stress during this time of year.
Schedule a free in-home consultation with our Client Services specialist who will discuss services and options available to you. Simply complete the form here or call us at (877) 691‑0015. Learn more about our services and how to contact us by visiting our website, where you’ll find helpful advice for “Keeping Home an Option for a Lifetime”
Take care of yourself as well as your loved one during the holiday season! Don’t wait until you are exhausted or your own health begins to fail. Start now to become more aware of your personal stressors, to practice stress-relieving strategies and to ask for help!