It may seem like an impossible juggling act to take care of yourself and your loved one during the holidays. Self-care and prioritization is the most difficult aspect of caregiving during the holidays, with approaches often varying between caregiver to caregiver or even completely ignored while attempting to finish up the never-ending to-do list.
To honor November’s National Caregiver’s Month, we are sharing valuable tools and tips for caregivers to prioritize themselves during the holidays. Whether you’re a member of the Sandwich Generation, or a full-time professional caregiver in the field, these important learnings will improve your juggling act:
How to Prioritize
During holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas, there are so many happenings: people to reunite with, light shows or pumpkin carvings to enjoy, decorating and holiday meals to prepare.
Prioritizing what is most meaningful can vary between caregiver to caregiver but is a critical tactic for all.
One of the best ways to dictate what is top priority on your caregiving to-do list is to ask yourself two questions: does it impact the safety of the person I am caring for or impact my safety? Does it impact their health or my health?
If it impacts your or their safety, that should be your top priority on your to-do list. Is the health of the person in your care impacted? If they refuse to stay active or take medication, that should be your second priority.
“Prioritization comes in the form of keeping the person for whom they are caring calm and contented. Everything else takes a back seat to that,” says Edith Gendron, Chief of Operations at the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Resource Center.
Create your to-do list centered around those two questions. Any item that does not fall under those two questions can be addressed lastly. This does not mean avoiding partaking in holiday festivities. Of course, choose a festive activity that allows both you and your care patient to stay active and merry during the holidays. Safety and health, however, should come first.
Use Your Digital Calendar and Applications Constantly
Every caregiver should have a calendar or to-do list to effectively prioritize tasks. “There are reminder apps, and other organizational apps – so many in fact it’s a personal preference as to which ones you find useful,” Gendron says.
However, if you’re seeking a digital calendar, Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar are easy digital calendars to manage and they connect to your email. There are also other online applications like CareZone that track medications, orders and health status.
In managing your calendar, remember to block off more time for each appointment than is required. Setting multiple alerts for one task keeps you informed. Prepare early during the holidays by adding deadlines a few days in advance of its actual due date in order to proactively relieve stress later on.
Know When to Ask for Help
One of the most difficult to-do list items for caregivers is knowing when to and asking for help.
Although it is challenging to ask for help, a good rule of thumb is when you have more than four items on your caregiving to-do list per day, ask for help. It can be easier to learn which task to delegate and which task to do yourself if you have your comprehensive to-do list updated and ready.
Do you need to do some grocery shopping or schedule a ride to an appointment? When asking for help, be specific about what you need from friends or family. Delegate small or simple tasks like picking up medication or household chores to friends or loved ones. Today, there are several companies and organizations that will clean your home, do your grocery shopping, pick up or drop off your care patient, or deliver or pick up items from your home. These are perfect time-savers for the holiday rush. For groceries, Instacart, Publix and Walmart are easy and helpful; Lyft and Uber are two car service companies that can pick up or drop off your care patient at the location of your choice.
How to Self-Care
Self-care is essential to doing your job well. Learning when to say no is the first step of self-care and it is quite powerful, especially during the holidays. Feeling bad emotionally can negatively affect your physical and mental wellbeing, which keeps you from being a good caregiver. Avoid attending a holiday gathering if you need time to yourself or to rest. Remember, you owe it to yourself first, so say no.
Let Go of Caregiving Guilt
Guilt is a common feeling among caregivers. Guilt is not often talked about, but it has negative effects on the mind, body and soul. It is common among depression, stress and isolation, which we know as “Caregiver Burnout.”
Guilt deters you from feeling your best self, often changing your positive thinking. It can also keep you staying physically active.
Good health starts with a happy heart. This means letting go of caregiving guilt. By letting go of caregiving guilt, you not only make room to think clearly about the tasks you must accomplish, but congratulations, you’ve started focusing on caring for yourself.
Find an Activity that Taps into Emotional, Mental and Physical Wellbeing
Set aside time on your calendar for yourself by scheduling an activity that interests you and taps in your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. This can mean staying active at the gym or getting a massage to participating in an activity like Laughter Yoga.
“I think it has to be all emotional, mental and wellbeing because if it’s just one of those aspects, you’ll get bored or you’ll never want to do it,” says Ingrid Collins, the Associate State Director of Community Engagement at AARP.
Ingrid Collins, who is also a member of the Sandwich Generation, has tried many activities and what she feels is working for her now is yoga in the morning. Collins wakes up at 4 a.m. to workout prior to going to work, running errands or taking care of her grandchildren and parents.
“It makes me feel centered, calm and it makes me feel fit,” she says.
Join a Community
A support system is the self-care one needs emotionally. Find a community, whether it is a niche organization or a church, that aligns with your values, personality or lifestyle. There are many ways to stay connected with your community. Join a community like joining NextDoor, a private social network for your neighborhood, to learn about in-person groups.
There are also many support groups for caregivers. You can find a caregiving support group near you online, but don’t feel the need to join a group often as long as you’re checking in with yourself.
Interested in learning more?
All caregivers need support and a place to let go and relax. Take a deep breath and join other caregivers at the Center for Health & Wellbeing. Hear their story and learn from them. Visit our Calendar to see programming.
In Charge of the Holiday Feast?
Enjoy a stress-free Thanksgiving or Christmas meal with a prepared feast by Nourish Coffee Bar + Kitchen. To order or learn more, please visit NourishCHWB.com