A balancing act

Being a caregiver during the holidays means honoring traditions, but also managing stress

Special meals, big gatherings, religious observations and annual travel plans are cherished elements of the holiday season for many families.

Such events can be both meaningful and even energizing in an ideal situation.

However, when it comes to caregivers, these holiday traditions can also bring additional stress. What was once done without much thought may now require extreme attention to timing, accessibility and the personal needs and stamina of the person under your care.

You may find yourself planning several different exit strategies, because you know how quickly and unexpectedly things can change.

Check in with yourself

Are you so overwhelmed with holiday activities and taking care of someone else that you may be neglecting your own physical, mental and emotional well-being?

If you find yourself without time to take care of your own needs, you may be putting yourself at risk. Have you felt any of these warning signs of caregiver stress over the past few weeks?

  • Shoulder aches, back aches or migraines coming from nowhere?
  • Anger or irritability toward the person you care for, other family members, doctors or service providers?
  • Lack of concentration and forgetfulness around holiday events?

Slow it down

People tend to experience stress through physical, emotional and mental signals. Discover what your stress signals are so that you can do stress-reducing activities to find a more balanced you.

If you’re doing physical work, give yourself a break every couple of hours and do something different with your body, just for a few minutes.

If you’re doing mental work, stop and look out the window to follow a snowflake or just let your mind daydream.

If you’re filled with all sorts of emotions such as sadness, frustration or anxiety, identify the emotions and talk them out with a trusted friend. Or try watching a funny movie. By recognizing your stress signals, you can actually help control and manage your stress levels, all while taking better care of yourself.

*See this article for more tips on how to manage stress.

Reach out

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t need to do it all or be everything to everyone. Look for people or services that can give you support. You can easily do twice as much with the help of others. But you have to ask for the help. Don’t expect others to be able to read your mind. Better balance will come when you reach out.

Jenny West works at FamilyMeans in Caregiver Support & Aging Services and is a member of the St. Paul-based Metropolitan Caregiver Service Collaborative (caregivercollaborative.org).

Find help

An estimated 65 percent of caregivers develop chronic illnesses. In fact, the No. 1 reason for early placement of a care receiver in a nursing home is the illness of the caregiver, not the receiver. That’s partly why self-care is critically important, especially during the holidays.

Is it time to get help? To find out, go to tools.roobrik.com/familymeans/care/start.