Rethinking New Year’s resolutions for caregivers to enhance wellbeing
2022 is right around the corner. Have you thought about your New Year’s resolutions?
If you have an annual habit of planning to start fresh as the clock strikes 12:01 am on January 1st, this might be a good year to take a step back and consider some alternatives.
Especially if you’re a caregiver.
The pandemic has caused rough going over the last couple of years for most people. As a caregiver, you’ve endured the additional weight of caring for a particularly vulnerable individual. You haven’t experienced life as usual for a long time.
If New Year’s resolutions feel like punishment, consider a different method of sending out the old and ringing in the new.
This is a good opportunity to work on self-compassion and to grant yourself the patience and understanding you deserve. This doesn’t mean you have to abandon your personal goals. What you can do is re-frame them in a way that emphasizes self-care over doing penance.
Let’s take a look at how caregivers can welcome the New Year in positive and realistic ways.
Embrace the things you can change
Worry is part of the territory in a caregiver’s role. While there’s no magic wand to erase it, there are ways to minimize worry’s negative influence on your health.
For example, there are aspects of caregiving that are out of your control:
- the progression of your loved one’s illness;
- unanticipated mishaps or complications — some things are impossible to foresee; and
- how others regard or ignore your situation.
Focus on what you can do and remember that what you’re able to do for your loved one is very valuable. With a little research and preparation, you’ll feel a better sense of control and less worry.
- Stay informed by contacting their medical provider to get questions answered. Learn all you can about their condition, their medications, and possible complications.
- Create a contingency plan for emergencies. This might include a list of agencies, family, or neighbors to contact if you need help. Consider finding a local geriatric care manager to help you plan. Lining up potential support before you think you need it is ideal — give us a call at SeaCare to learn more about how we can help.
- Acknowledge that not all friends and family members will actively participate in your loved one’s care as actively as you do. Continue to keep your end of communications open to reinforce the value of your caregiving. Find more useful information about the stigma of caregiving in an earlier SeaCare blog.
Resolve to stay in touch with your feelings
Caregiving is an act of love, but there are days when every caregiver experiences fear, resentment, anger, and more. Rather than being reluctant to acknowledge hard feelings or scolding yourself for them, try these steps:
Take a deep breath and step away for a minute. A few deep, full breaths can have an immediate calming sensation.
Identify how you’re feeling and what triggered it. Give your feelings a label. If you’re not sure, describe for yourself how your body is feeling — do you have a lump in your throat? Are you flushed? Are you clenching your jaw? Have you raised your voice? Do you have tears in your eyes?
Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Tell yourself this feeling is normal and that it’s your brain’s and body’s way of signaling it’s time to cope.
Employ a coping mechanism:
- If you’ve identified fear, try to separate generalized fears about the future from specific fears such as safety issues or medical emergencies. Are these your fears or your loved one’s fears? Reach out to external resources — like your person’s medical provider or another family member or neighbor. Second opinions might ease some of your concerns and provide useful information.
- If you’ve identified anger, take a self-imposed time out. Practice kinder alternatives for responding to whoever angers you. If your care recipient triggered your anger, remind yourself that illness or disability can cause negative behaviors and be as forgiving as possible. Find a trusted person who’s willing to let you vent to ease the pressure.
- If you’re feeling resentful that the caregiving burden has fallen on you, think about the help you really want. Get specific. It’s time to start asking for assistance. Do you need actual physical support or are you looking for emotional support? Would you like some occasional time off or do you need financial help? Be realistic that others’ help might be minor or something other than hands-on, like grocery shopping or helping with paperwork or phone calls. Accepting even the smallest gesture of assistance can help you feel less resentful.
Set goals for self-care with your purpose and long term well-being in mind
When caregiving is your full-time responsibility, it seems unending. Your focus is on someone else’s day-to-day needs, and the idea of making resolutions might sound impossible.
Especially if those resolutions involve feeling better yourself.
But please, as the New Year approaches, go ahead and make a resolution or two. Instead of emphasizing the goal itself, think about your purpose for it. And give yourself the latitude of compassion.
Here are some ways to re-frame your New Year’s goals and make them meaningful for now and for your long-term well-being.
Instead of resolving to get in shape, resolve to keep moving. Why? Caregiving is exhausting and you might feel like you just want to sit and rest. Even simple movements can increase your energy. Try some simple dance steps, a few trips up and down the stairs, 5 wall push-ups, or a quick walk around the block if you can manage it. Taking a little time several times a day will keep your blood flowing and improve your mood.
Instead of resolving to lose weight, resolve to eat healthy foods. Why? When you’re caregiving, a hectic schedule can mean relying on convenience foods and snacking. If you find you’re putting on weight, remember that the scale offers only a single measure of your health, and not necessarily the best one. Choosing uncomplicated ways to eat that promote well-being might not result in the weight loss you desire but will impact how you feel. For example:
- opt for foods that can help to lower your stress level, including warm foods like soup and tea, good-fat things like salmon and avocado, and whole grains like oatmeal;
- choose fresh vegetables and fruits high in antioxidants help to keep your gut healthy, which has a positive effect on depression; and
- find pleasure in the act of simple food preparation — it can be therapeutic if you take your time and add personal touches to please your palate.
Instead of a new list of to-do’s, make a don’t-do list. Why? As a caregiver you’re focused on your loved one’s quality of life, often while ignoring your own. You have too much to do. It’s time to eliminate some of the things that threaten your personal well-being. Consider these don’t-do activities:
- Unless it’s a matter of safety, don’t try to solve all problems immediately.
- Don’t get bogged down by details that aren’t important in the long run.
- If some aspect of your loved one’s care doesn’t make sense, consult an expert (such as their medical provider) for clarification rather than trying to figure it out yourself.
- Forget about trying to do things perfectly — focus on kindness and consistency instead.
- Don’t try to do it all. Solicit help for yard work, house cleaning, and grocery shopping. Find friends and family who are willing to spend time with your loved one so you can take a breather.
At SeaCare, we resolve to provide the quality care your loved one needs — for the New Year and all year long. Contact us to learn more.
Katie Wright writes about aging and senior wellness from Bellingham, WA. You can read more about her here.
If you or a loved one you know are looking for additional support during this time and are interested in scheduling a free in-home assessment, please contact SeaCare In-Home Care Services today! A SeaCare family member is standing by. 425-559-4339.