Monday, December 12, 2011

Managing Holiday Stress

Maintaining good health throughout stressful times is directly linked to a positive mind set.  Improving your mood need not be time consuming or expensive – try these simple strategies to distract your attention from the hectic pace of life around you and restore the energy you need.

Make sure you are well rested.  According to the National Institute on Aging, an estimated 30 percent of middle aged Americans don’t get enough sleep.  Factors that can help you get a good night’s sleep are sticking to a regular bedtime, sleeping in a cool and dark room and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine after mid-afternoon.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day.  Moderate exercise is an activity that leaves you feeling warm, but still able to talk.  And don’t forget routine activities like mopping the floor and raking leaves are considered moderate exercise.

Music has the ability to alter your mood.  If you want to relax, listen to slow, soothing classical music.  To energize yourself, pick something that is faster such as jazz or pop.  Or consider making your own music by playing a musical instrument. 

Because the holidays may be one of the few times that the family gathers during the year, caregivers often feel a sense of sadness or loss if familiar traditions cannot be celebrated as they were before a disabling condition started it course for the one they are caring for.  It’s understandable if family caregivers experience difficult emotions and conflicting feelings, or find themselves feeling particularly sad during the holidays. All of the suggestions above (having a positive mind set, being well rested, doing moderate exercise and using music to uplift mood) apply to caregivers, too.  I’d also like to share some additional tips for managing holiday stress for caregivers. 

Often the relatives you see least can be the family members who try your patience and sanity the most.    Keep in mind that these relatives can’t understand or appreciate the role you play as caregiver.  Because they pop in and out, they don’t understand the difficulty you face in trying to be the best caregiver possible.  But, with a little education and information, you might be able to open their eyes and their hearts.  Although you regularly update your family about your care recipient’s condition, sometimes the truth of your words hits home during a relative’s visit.  When a family member first schedules a visit, begin the process of re-educating them about your loved one’s current illness or condition.  Your local association’s, such as The Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association or Arthritis Foundation have excellent brochures and flyers that can help you inform family members.

Your family members may be freightened by the condition of their once-virile and healthy loved one.  If they are familiar with the disease’s progression and condition, they will be more comfortable and understanding of their loved one.  Also, recommend they read books that you found particularly helpful.  Include a list of techniques you found useful when dealing with your care recipient’s repetitive questions, loss of bladder or bowel control, or confusion.  Also, if your loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or a similar dementia, include a list of triggers, events or actions that seem to create a negative reaction or behavior.  Share your learning experiences with them – how you adapted to the changes due to your loved one’s illness.  Communicating your knowledge and experience will be helpful for you, your care recipient and your family members.

You might worry your loved one will be overwhelmed at a large family event.  Be honest and open with your family and friends about your loved one’s limitations.  Consider visiting family early in the day when your loved one is alert and sociable.  You might ask small groups of guests to visit your home.  This can be less overwhelming for your loved one who may be more comfortable in familiar surroundings.

Some family caregivers may choose to go to holiday gatherings without their loved one, and this is an understandable choice.  Someone suffering from dementia may simply be too confused or agitate to enjoy the event.  If you do bring your loved one, take turns attending to him or her so that you don’t have to do all of the caregiving yourself.

With reduced expectations of the holidays, it can be helpful and even enjoyable to focus on what you still share with your loved one.  Try reminiscing about family and friends from past holidays.  Watching movies, listening to songs or looking at old photos connected to holiday memories are other good ways to share and re-experience the warmth with your loved one, even if he or she is no longer able to communicate with you. 

Lastly, it is normal to feel sadness and loss as a caregiver during the holidays and it probably will not be helpful to ignore or deny these feelings.  The loss you experience with your loved one is real, and despite your efforts to lift your own spirits and plan ahead, your can still run into the “holiday blues”.  Finding someone understanding who you can talk to about such feelings can be one more important step to lift your spirits.  

I wish you a tranquil holiday season and Happy New Year.

The Dale Association is a unique non profit organization which has been responding to needs of adults in our Niagara community for 60 years.  It has been said many times that our services help make lives better and we are proud to be able to do this for people with so many different needs. The sole purpose of our variety of services is to enhance the potential of each individual to live life fully and in harmony with family, friends and community.   

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