By Dole Caregiver Fellow Jennifer Mackinday
The last two weeks of the year is often the most stressful time of the year for our nation’s military caregivers. Stress comes from more than just holiday activities; the extra responsibilities caregivers shoulder make this time of year less cheerful and more cheerless.
The work, family, and care routines that caregivers work so hard to establish and maintain can be completely disrupted during the holidays. As a result, many caregivers say they feel overwhelmed, short on time and even shorter on patience.
While we can’t stop the impact the holidays have on a caregiver’s life, we can use survival strategies to weather the storms of the season. Here are just a few ways military caregivers across the country find ways to cope:
1) Adjust your expectations. Buy holiday sweets instead of making them from scratch. Narrow down your holiday greeting card list, or simply skip sending cards this year. Order gifts online, and cut down on the number of gifts you buy, or have a Secret Santa gift exchange this year-saving time and money! Remind yourself that your care recipient loves you, but may not celebrate the holidays the same way they once did. And that’s okay! Ann Marie P. suggests limiting plans and not getting wrapped up in activities like baking, decorating and shopping. “I keep it simple, some decorating, NO MALLS!!”
2) Remember to use your support network. Which family, friends, neighbors can help shoulder your burden? Seek help from your community, such as Veterans groups and religious organizations, who often have programs and offerings for veterans and military families. The Salvation Army offers Christmas assistance including food, clothing, and toys, for families in need. Operation Homefront’s holiday meals program provides hundreds of holiday meals to military families across the nation.
3) Say no. Don’t feel pressured to accept every party invitation or agree to request to volunteer. Saying no isn’t selfish, it’s a means to preserve your time and energy. Overcommitting can affect the person you are caring for if you become thinly stretched and tired. Emery P. recommends saying no and to be very clear about how much, or how little, you can contribute to group events. “Firm boundaries are my sanity saver.”
4) Don’t try to be perfect. Know that this time of year you’ll need to be more flexible and patient. Expecting long lines at the store, extra traffic on the roadways, prevents disappointment and prepares you for delays. Be choosy about the events you attend, and you’ll save your time and energy for the things you truly enjoy. Ash S. and her family take each day and see how it goes. “Our philosophy is there are tons of stuff we must do-work, doctor appointments, therapy -anything else is always a choice.”
5) Maintain your health. Fit in time for exercise, meditation, or just ‘down time’ to recharge. “Meditation not only helps myself, but helps my veteran, too,” says Dawn P. Eat and drink as healthy as you can to sustain your energy. Remember to breath. Deep breathing is an excellent way to de-stressing and move one with your day. PsychArmor offers free online courses for military caregivers, including Mantram Repetition which teaches caregivers of coping with stress.
The key to holiday survival for military caregivers is taking care of yourself by limiting your commitments, adjusting your expectations, and asking for help. Self-care will get you through the tough times because self-care is healthcare!