While many of us have spent years as family caregivers, some caregivers are new to this challenge. So new, in fact, that they have yet to realize that they are caregivers. So new that they haven’t had time to even consider the stress that they are under - stress that will likely increase, rather than decrease, if they don’t begin to develop some self-care strategies early on.
Self-identifying as a caregiver
According to AARP and other resources, more than 42 million Americans are faced with the challenge of providing care to their older family members and/or friends. Caregiving can take a tremendous toll on the caregiver’s personal health and overall wellbeing, and yet, according to the organization, many caregivers don’t think of themselves as caregivers and can be reluctant to ask for help.
AARP has developed two tests for those who need a little push in self-identifying as a caregiver. Both methods are kind of fun and may reveal something about yourself that you haven’t quite pinned down. One is a new video from comedian Jeff Foxworthy who says, "You might be a caregiver if"" and the other is a new online quiz. Take the tests if you are not sure about your caregiver status.
If you think you’re a caregiver, you likely are
My thoughts are that if you think you’re a caregiver, you likely are a caregiver. This round of holidays could be your first as a caregiver or your 10th, but it never hurts to be reminded of ways to de-stress this time of year. With that in mind, I’ve listed below some personal tips to help caregivers cope with the holidays and beyond:
- Streamline. Choose only the most important yet feasible traditions, then adjust them as you would a seasoning.
- Be flexible. Ask for help if you are hosting. Buy a few items ready-made, such time- consuming pies. If possible, treat the meal as a potluck. Provide family recipes for those who want them and/or be ready to experience new foods.
- Be open. Talk honestly with young children or grandchildren who will likely be most affected by gaps in tradition. Help them learn that people come first - always. They can help by providing alternatives to time-consuming traditions and by being good sports.
- Each celebration doesn’t have to occur on the perfect day. You can spread out your gatherings.
- Simple is good. Know that what you can do is enough. Wearing yourself out to have a traditional holiday won’t help your sick loved one. Your cheerful, loving presence will. Traditions are wonderful but they can’t be so rigid that they are crippling.
The bottom line is that you must take care of yourself as well as others. For more information on how to do that, you may want to read Unearned Guilt Intrinsic to Most Caregiving.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.