When Your Christmas is Blue

With all of the holiday cheer during this season, it’s hard for some people to understand how others could feel sad, lonely, or depressed. The media, retailers, and our neighbors all project the perfect holiday season, and everyone’s life looks perfect from the outside. Good cheer seems to permeate the very air we breathe! But for many people, the holidays bring loneliness, isolation, and regrets. These emotions are driven by a number of reasons, but they are valid for those who feel them.

Some people feel depressed around the holidays because they are grieving losses that have occurred during the last year. This may mean the death of loved ones or the loss of ability or even freedom of time and focus. Whatever the cause, loss requires a period of recovery and time to grieve. Others simply feel that their holiday experiences won’t measure up to our culture’s picture-perfect images of smiling families and bright, shiny packages in perfectly decorated homes.

Some people feel a physical impact with the advent of shorter days and longer nights. They are emotionally impacted by reduced light exposure, and if you are one of these people, you should consult your doctor, because there are therapies that can help with this medical condition, known as a seasonal affected disorder or SAD.

Whatever the cause of your depression, if you are one of these people who feel sadness during the holidays, don’t be hard on yourself. Very few people experience perfect holidays. And if you are a Family Caregiver, you are tasked with managing holiday observations and celebrations for others as well as for yourself.

There are things you can do to give yourself an instant mood-lift during the holidays. Bake cookies, or simply sprinkle some cinnamon on a baking sheet and pop it in a warm oven for a few minutes. Your kitchen will smell like a bakery in no time, with no added calories! Light scented candles, or make a flavored tea and sip on it while you relax in some “me” time. For longer-term mood lifters, simplify long-held holiday traditions, or ask for help from others to make everyone’s memories extra-special again this year. Explain to other family members how things have changed, and implement a plan to balance your responsibilities and obligations to those you care for with the expectations of others in your life during this special time of year.

The important thing is to remember why we celebrate this time of year. My family celebrates the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, who came to save the world from its sins. When we are focused on this point of celebration, the joy of our holiday celebrations shines through any difficulties we face.

Gift Ideas for Family Caregivers

What’s the best gift you could imagine for yourself as a Family Caregiver? Does something immediately come to mind? Would you love to have a subscription to your favorite magazine or a gift card to a favorite restaurant? How about a foot spa or one of those pads that gives you a chair massage? Even better, how about a gift certificate for a session with a massage therapist? Or better yet, a year’s membership to a local spa that will give you a massage every month? Maybe get a manicure while you’re there?

It’s easy for me to think of gifts you might like, but how could I possibly guess what your best present might be? And, actually, you might not be so quick to make suggestions, either. Most Family Caregivers are so attuned to the needs of others that they are slow to recognize their own needs. And usually, if they are brutally honest with themselves and others, most Family Caregivers would tell the gift-givers in their lives that they need help. But most of us won’t admit that until we reach a critical point of overload or burnout.

We’ve talked at length over the past few months about finding balance in the Family Caregiver’s world. Establishing balance will allow you to care for yourself while caring for others. It’s not an easy achievement, but it is so worthwhile if you can build it! Balance means different things to different people; it’s not a cookie-cutter concept. Here are some ideas for Family Caregiver gifts that might help you, or someone you love, achieve balance in caregiving:

  1. A gym or yoga membership, or a workout DVD.
  2. An attractive journal for tracking the caregiving journey.
  3. Vouchers or gift certificates for house-cleaning services.
  4. Gift certificates to a favorite coffee shop, restaurant, or spa.
  5. Vouchers for respite care to take a break and do something fun.
  6. A devotional book or magazine for caregivers.
  7. Info on a local Family Caregiver support group with a commitment to come and cover while the Family Caregiver attends the sessions.
  8. Hobby supplies, or a gift certificate to the local hobby store.
  9. Two tickets to a cultural event, with a promise to cover the loved one while they attend with a friend.
  10. A commitment to emotional support and time are the two best gifts any Family Caregiver could ever receive.

If the item is expensive, family members might go in together to purchase it. And remember, gifts don’t have to only happen at Christmas and birthdays! An unexpected gesture of support and appreciation is always appropriate and might be exactly what was needed to get through an unexpectedly challenging day.

The best gifts aren’t the ones that cost the most but are the ones that come from the heart. Join the conversation and share the best gifts from your heart.

Family Feuds

“Over the river and through the snow,

To Grandmother’s house, we go!”

Every December my husband and I would pack our kids in the car for the 7-hour drive to Georgia to spend time with his family for their annual holiday gathering. We would sing, laugh, play games, listen to audiobooks, and then tumble out of the car at Mema’s house for a few days of good food, laughter, and reconnecting with aunts, uncles, and cousins not seen for many months. The family filled the house to overflowing, and the laughter never stopped.

Family gatherings fill the weeks between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day for most people, and these are an essential part of our traditions. But if you are a Family Caregiver, this custom can bring lots of added stress to your holidays, and not the least of this is the discord that might arise if families clash about the care you are giving to your aging loved one, or if they fail to recognize your sacrifice of time and energy.

When aging parents need help, conflicts may arise from several directions. When there are several adult children, there may be conflict over who becomes the primary decision-maker for arranging care. Usually, if one adult child is local, that person takes on this role, and may even become the primary caregiver. Other siblings might disagree on the type of care or the amount of attention your aging parent needs. Conflict may also arise if there is a cost involved in receiving care, and sometimes families disagree on how the money is spent. If sibling rivalry has been an ongoing issue within the family, this can create additional strain within the family dynamics as well.

Family feuds are never fun when they impact a Family Caregiver. If you feel caught in the middle, your best recourse is to involve an impartial 3rd party expert who can listen objectively to the issues the family is dealing with and help broker a solution that is acceptable to everyone. Such disagreements might involve the senior’s actual condition and needs, estate planning, financial management, interpersonal roles and rivalries, and the burden of care. Your 3rd party expert might be a minister, a doctor, a geriatric care manager, or even someone from a homecare or hospice agency.

The most important thing is to try and keep your ego out of the mix. As the primary Family Caregiver, you have to always keep your loved one’s best interests in the forefront. If you can help your siblings and other family members do this as well, you have a much better chance of coming up with a plan that everyone will support, and your holiday gatherings will be merry and bright!

Read here to learn more:




Handling Holiday Traditions as a Family Caregiver

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…or is it? Maybe we should change the words of that song to be: It’s the most…stressful time of the year? Maybe it’s the most hectic time of the year? Or it’s the most frustrating time of the year? Well, at least that one works rhythmically 😉

Our family loves the holidays. The music, the lights, the food, and the traditions are all near and dear to our hearts. We decorate the weekend after Thanksgiving and take it all down sometime in January. It’s a busy season, with church events and concerts, parties, end-of-year obligations as business owners, and shopping for gifts large and small. We have traditional recipes we use year after year. We read the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, and A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore on Christmas Eve before bed.  We’ve taken the same Christmas morning photo of our kids in their Christmas PJ’s on the staircase that comes down to the kitchen from their bedrooms for ten years now. This year will be different because we will have an extra “kid” as our son-in-law joins the ranks on Christmas morning!

This year our Christmas will be a little different in another way as well because we don’t know what our holiday season will hold with Betsy’s mom’s recent change in health. Betsy knows that her brother could call at any minute to say she needs to come quickly. Of course, we have all known for years that this could happen, but it feels much closer now since her mom’s change in condition.

As a Family Caregiver, you know how unpredictable your schedule may be on any given day. Depending on the condition of the person you care for, or the care plan you have set up, you might have the freedom to keep up with a hectic holiday schedule, but it also might not be worth the effort. Ask yourself this question: do you have room to breathe deeply, to relax, to soak in a hot tub or enjoy a quiet cup of tea every day during the holidays? If not, you might want to rethink your schedule and your stress level!

Here’s an exercise to help you determine what might be negotiable this holiday season.

  1. Make a list of everything that is “tradition” during your holidays.
  2. Next to the items on your list, give each item a value of zero to five, with five being most important things you love about the holidays and zero being completely unimportant.
  3. Remove all the items that ranked as a zero. (Duh!)
  4. Now, look at your list one more time, to make sure there are no more zeros hiding there.
  5. Look at everything ranked one, two, or three and consider to whom you might delegate these items. Delegate them, or ask yourself, if it didn’t happen this year would it matter? If the answer is “no”, then re-rank it a zero and remove it from your list.
  6. Look at all the fives on your list. Do you really love all of these items? If you do, then make room for them in your schedule and enjoy them for all they are worth. Do the same for the traditions you ranked with a four as well, as you have time.
  7. Consider the ones, twos, and threes that you didn’t delegate. Seriously, to whom can you transfer these traditions? Or can they happen outside of the holiday crush? You could enjoy Christmas cookies in January when it’s cold outside. Skip hosting a get-together until after the holidays, when people are moving more slowly and looking for something to do.

Now, look at your list one last time. All you should have left on your list are the things you truly love about the holidays. These won’t feel like chores; they will be highlights of your month. They should bring you joy and pleasure and will make you a better Family Caregiver for your loved one.

What ranks as a five on your list? Join the conversation and share your heart!

Managing Stress

Family Caregivers are real heroes in the lives of those for whom they care! They juggle busy schedules, manage any number of challenges every day, and handle whatever comes their way. If you care for someone full-time, or if you oversee the care from a distance, you are going to have stress in your life.

Family Caregivers experience stress in a variety of ways; your success in managing your stress level will have a direct impact on your health and your ability to care for others. Family Caregivers report stress as a loss of sleep, poor eating habits, elevated blood sugar and blood pressure, limited physical activity, and a frequent or constant sense of anxiety or failure. These issues can lead to chronic health problems that will hinder, or even prevent, your ability to provide continued care to aging loved ones.

Some things I’ve learned over the years that help me manage my stress include: regular exercise, drinking plenty of water, limiting caffeine, eating lots of fruits and veggies, and getting at least seven hours of sleep each night. When I go to bed at the same time each night, walk while my mom is still sleeping, and keep a water bottle going all day long, I am more patient and calm. If my mom says or does something that might get under my skin, it’s easier to take a deep breath and remember that she didn’t mean to be hurtful. I am stronger as a person and as a Family Caregiver when I am more centered and focused.

Likewise, when I’m not doing these things, I am out of balance as a person and as a caregiver. I’m more tired, less creative, and quicker to react in anger or frustration. My response time is lagging, and my productivity in all areas of my life suffers. It’s just not a pretty picture!

To best manage my stress levels, I also have to assess what I do during my day, determine what I’m good at and what I hate doing so I can find ways to take the latter off my plate. For example, I love to cook, but I hate menu-planning and shopping. I can utilize resources that will plan my menus for me, and some will even do the grocery shopping and deliver to my home. I avoid pushing the shopping cart through the crowded aisles and blissfully chop carrots and onions in the comfort of my own kitchen.

To successfully manage the stress in your own life, you need first to assess how much stress you are feeling. Here’s a link to a Family Caregiver Stress Assessment Tool: https://www.caregiverstress.com/stress-management/family-caregiver-stress/stress-assessment/

Once you’ve taken the assessment, you should have a good idea of how stressed you really feel. You can then develop a plan to help you manage your stress and regain a sense of balance and control in your life.

Also, remember that the person you are caring for similarly has stress in their life. Their stress might be caused by loss of independence, loss of ability, loss of a sense of self-worth, loss of life as they once knew it, or even loss of memories. It is your job as a Family Caregiver to recognize your loved one’s losses and try to ease their sorrow or pain. You can even help them forget their losses for a time, or enable them to discover new abilities in this time of their life. But to find these new paths, to bring light to another’s darkness, you must be at your best. When you get a handle on your own stress and develop strategies that manage or alleviate that burden, you can feel great about putting on your Superhero cape and being a hero for someone special in your life!


Finding “Me” Time

Remember that song by Janet Jackson back in the 80’s: What Have You Done for Me Lately? The lyrics went like this:

Used to be a time when you would pamper me
Usta brag about it all the time
Your friends seem to think that you’re so peachy keen
But my friends say neglect is on your mind – Who’s right?

What have you done for me lately?
Ooh ooh ooh yeah
What have you done for me lately?
Ooh ooh ooh yeah

I want you to take those lyrics, and ask yourself if you could be talking about yourself with those words? As a Family Caregiver, you know how hard it is to carve out time to do the things you once did…from reading a book or a magazine or going out with friends for lunch, to dating your significant other or even spending time with your children. Caring for older family members or those with special needs can be both exhausting and time-consuming. Depending on how much help you have from others, you could be providing care up to 24/7! Just ask yourself this question: What have I done for me lately? Ooh ooh ooh yeah!

Finding time to pamper and care for yourself when you are caring for someone else can seem impossible, but I promise that with a game plan, you can care for yourself while caring for another. Building a winning strategy involves collecting information, developing a plan, gathering resources and implementing your system. It also includes regular check-ins to determine what works and what doesn’t, and a willingness to make modifications and try different ideas if the first one, or several, are not helping you achieve the desired outcomes.

Let’s say your desired outcome is to find one hour every day to spend alone, relaxing and resting your mind and body. Here are steps you will need to take to accomplish this goal.

  1. Consider the daily schedule that you observe with the one you care for. Consider the needs you are meeting with your loved one, and what other obligations you might have. Keep in mind that sleep and nutrition are ultimate necessities, so you cannot short-cut either of these when carving out your hour. Does your loved one nap regularly? Does s/he eat or take medications on a tight schedule? Does anyone come into the home on a regular basis to provide support services for cooking, cleaning, or caregiving? How does your current plan align with all of these details?
  2. Once you have collected all of this information, you are ready to develop a plan. Write everything down for a week or two, and then examine the schedule to see if there is a time where you can “step away” and rest for a while. If you cannot find anything, ask a friend, family member, or someone you trust to look with you. Ask this person to push you to find a solution to your dilemma.
  3. Once you have found your window of time, you need to gather resources. Use a pillbox to pre-sort meds so someone else might give them if your window of availability occurs when it’s time to take a pill. Consider who else might be available for the hour you need if there just is no safe way to leave your loved one unattended. Hire a professional home care company to provide support if you don’t have any local family or friends who can be available. Designate a space in your home that is your quiet place. Make it comfortable and cozy, and gather those things you want around you during your quiet time. Think about what you need to make this space and time conducive to your rest and restoration, and put it there.
  4. Finally, put your plan in motion! As often as is possible, when it’s time for you to unplug, do it! You might need to start with only 15 minutes or so, to help the person you are caring for learn that they can trust another while you are away. Be firm with the substitute caregiver; they need to figure out how to manage while you are taking some time to care for yourself. You need this time to be a better Family Caregiver, and they are here to help you accomplish this goal! Work up to your hour, and maybe even go beyond it. You will be amazed at how much better you feel, and how much more you can get accomplished with a little break now and then.

Once you’ve implemented your plan over a few days or weeks, you will want to check in with your support caregivers, as well as the one you care for, to discover how things are running and feeling for them. Sometimes it will be evident that the plan is not working. Perhaps your substitute isn’t working out or needs you for something every day. Maybe your loved one is more difficult to manage when you are away for the hour over several days. Any number of things might go wrong, but with patience and a willingness to make small adjustments in your plan, you should be able to find a working solution before long that will help you take your “me” time regularly, and you will be a much better Family Caregiver for doing this! And I promise, when you can pamper yourself regularly, even just a little bit, I promise you will find yourself saying, “Ooh, ooh, ooh YEAH!”

Finding Mental Strength

My mother fell and broke her hip. I got the call from my brother as the ambulance was transporting her to the hospital. I’ve been rehearsing this scenario for months now: what to do when I get the call, how to pack, how to travel to Georgia to be at my mother’s side in the hospital. Chris asked how I was doing. “I’m fine,” I replied. Of course, I wasn’t fine. I was just running on automatic at that point.

Five hours later I arrived at the hospital, and the next day she went into surgery. It was quickly determined that, at 97 years of age, she could not tolerate the therapy schedule required to stay in the hospital’s rehab program. She could barely hold her eyes open, and cried out in pain whenever anyone touched her. After six days, we requested a referral for hospice, and she was discharged home with hospice and around-the-clock care from Home Instead’s CAREGivers.

During those six days in the hospital, I felt both hope and hopelessness as I watched my mother struggle with physical therapy. I felt anger when she simply wouldn’t try. I was bewildered when she woke and thought that I was her mother, my grandmother. I felt relief when she survived the surgery to repair the broken hip, and then frustration when she repeatedly wished she could go ahead and die. I felt relief, and a little disappointment, when the hospital’s rehab program said they wouldn’t take her. I felt peace about bringing hospice into the equation, and sadness that my mother really is at the end of her life. It might be months, or even years now, but hospice brings a sense of finality to my mom’s story.

As a Family Caregiver, you are on an emotional roller-coaster ride on the best of days. One hour might be bright and wonderful, and the next might be painful, frustrating, or terrifying. And Family Caregivers who live at a distance from their loved ones are always waiting to receive “that phone call” that might tear them from their daily routines and send them into new landscapes of care. Whether you care for someone daily, or from a distance, you need a toolkit to help you remain strong through the toughest of times.

Your first tools are the things we’ve been talking about over the last few weeks. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally will prepare you to manage the situation when it becomes challenging. You will be better equipped to manage the stress in your life and think clearly and with focus when you need to do so. Think of yourself as an athlete in training. You are a Family Caregiver in training for the crisis moments that will present themselves at the worst possible moments. Daily preparation helps the athlete perform at his or her best whenever the opportunity presents itself. You will be able to do the same. If you haven’t already, start today!

Next, you need to educate you on possible challenges and potential outcomes related to the person for whom you provide care. What is the best-case scenario, and what is the worst? Talk with an expert to help you gain a thorough understanding of the prospects, and to help you make a plan for best outcomes. Educate other family members and gain their commitments of support for your plans.

Third, learn about local resources that can help you manage the situation. This might include involving Home Health, Home Care, or Hospice Services. It could mean making a decision to move your loved one to a facility if you can no longer provide adequate care at home. It might mean enlisting other family members, neighbors or friends to help you manage things like household maintenance, meals, lawn care, laundry, or even just to give you a break. And remember, this time can be used to sleep, eat, exercise, or socialize with friends. You still need to be taking care of yourself while you are caring for your loved one.

Finally, embrace the fact that you are not in this alone. Accept that you need help, and get it. Also accept that the help you get might not look exactly like you want it to, but if it can give you back your balance and sanity, then allow and appreciate it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or request slight modifications, but also don’t micromanage a hired caregiver, healthcare worker, neighbor or friend who is there to help you and your loved one. Move to a mental place of thankfulness and resist feelings of guilt for letting someone else care for your mom. It’s what I had to do.

I mentioned earlier that my mother came home yesterday with around-the-clock care from Home Instead. Last night the overnight CAREGiver arrived at 8:00 pm. My mother asked why she was there, and insisted that she didn’t need anyone overnight, because I was there to care for her. I stuffed down the rising guilt inside of me, and spoke up. “Yes, Mama, we do need her here. I need her here tonight so I can get some rest and know that you are being looked after.” My mother slept well last night, with a Home Instead CAREGiver by her side. And I slept well also, knowing she was cared for.