Thanksgiving is here. Images of happy, laughing families around a table or of multiple generations participating in baking activities dance around the Internet. Every year we are shown images of what a celebratory family "should be" across all forms of media. If you are in the throws of an acute or difficult chronic caregiving situation, or if your daily life simply feels like total chaos, when do you get to become a Norman Rockwell painting? Is this necessary?
We noted recently that statistics reveal between 40% and 70% of family caregivers experience depression, isolation and loneliness. That doesn't take a vacation during the holidays. In fact, the holidays can bring up good, yet often painful, memories and feelings of nostalgia as you watch a loved one physically or mentally decline. The expectations we place upon ourselves to have the "picture perfect holiday" can also cause angst. Family dynamics...those can always be challenging. With everything extra that we need to do during this season, how can the already busy modern caregiver maintain peace during this extra busy time?
November and December require one to truly take time for self-care. This is simply checking in with yourself to ask "What do I need most?" before you even get out of bed in the morning — and to set simple priorities. We've listed just a few tips for caring for YOU this holiday season. Here's a list you'll want to check twice!
Lower your expectations
Ask yourself, "Do I really need to bake everything from scratch?" Perhaps this is the year to purchase baked goods from your local middle school pie sale or support a farm stand. If baking cookies is your tradition, there are fabulous pre-made mixes which produce tasty treats. Focus on the time spent sharing the goodies with loved ones versus the act of creating them yourself.
Perhaps there are household routines you can modify, too, like spending an entire Saturday to clean the house like you always do. Instead, you might want to try setting a timer for 20 minutes at the end of most nights, and see how quickly you can dispense with a few of the must-do's. You might be surprised!
Take a break from a chore or obligation
Use paper plates; order your groceries online and have them delivered; serve breakfast for dinner. Every once in a while won't hurt!
Now, think about the items on your current to-do list. Which ones make you feel tired and drained before you even start them? Brainstorm ways to take a break from these first. And maybe this is the year you send Happy New Year cards after the rush is over — or skip the cards all together. A quick social media post can scratch that off your to-do list in short order!
Balance doing with being
Modern life has turned the holidays into one manic activity after another. How many of those are necessary? What matters is being with others - physically, mentally, emotionally. BEING present is your gift. Allow yourself to stop. Take the time to pause. Listen to a loved one's story or memory. Watch your kids play play. Join in for a bit or just sit in a chair (head-nodding allowed!). Repeat a new mantra: "No one or nothing will make me rush today." or "There is enough time to accomplish all I need." These phrases when repeated often enough really can slow down and calm your nervous system, yet keep you productive at the same time.
There is something about fresh air, isn't there? Research has shown that after spending time in nature, mood improves, attention span increases, and calmness descends. This doesn't mean trekking off to the wild outdoors. Take short walks during lunch hour. Walk to the corner store instead of driving. Stand outside for 10 minutes simply breathing. Crack your windows at home or in your car. Spend some playtime outside with your kids (we tell them to go out in the cold, right?). All it takes is a moment to shift your attention and bring yourself back to center.
The holidays ARE a time for joy, and it's possible even when life is hard. Ultimately, be creative and a tiny bit selfish for yourself. It is 100% OK. Then, hopefully, you can enjoy being together with all those around you and feel the most healing emotion of all - gratitude- during this holiday season.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at Torchlight!