When you are a caregiver for a loved one, winter can seem to last forever. The holidays have passed, yet spring still seems so far away. It’s either too cold or too icy to venture outside. Little things that used to roll off your back are now getting stuck in your head.
How are you supposed to cope with caregiving when the winter blues and cabin fever are nipping at your heels?
Why Self-Care for Caregivers Is Important
Being a caregiver is one of the hardest jobs out there. Not only are you assisting with everyday tasks, such as managing medicines and helping with meals, but you’re also providing emotional support as well.
Unless you’re a nurse or a therapist, you probably don’t have training for all the things you’re asked to do as a caregiver. Plus, it’s likely that you’re also holding down a full-time job in addition to the hours of unpaid caregiving help you provide.
But, if you’re like most caregivers, you probably have thoughts in your head that play on repeat and prevent you from really taking care of yourself:
- “I am responsible for my parent’s health.”
- “If I don’t do it, no one will.”
- “If I do it right, I’ll get the love, attention, and respect I deserve.”
- “I promised my father I would always take care of my mother.”
It might feel as if you can’t find time to exercise because it would take time away from caring for your parent. Or maybe every time you try to take a 15-minute walk you spend the whole time berating yourself for being selfish for taking time for yourself.
The truth is that you are a loving, caring human being — but you are not a superhuman. You cannot do it all. And feeling like you have to do it all, and do it all by yourself, is a guaranteed way to feel resentment.
If you don’t take a break — if you don’t leave the cabin, at least mentally — the resentment is bound to turn into caregiver burnout. Then your ability to care for your loved one really will be negatively affected.
The fact is when you take time for yourself, it makes you a better caregiver. Once you make yourself a priority, you will find that you feel better. You may get sick less often or sleep better. You may even enjoy your caregiving tasks more than before.
So if you’re beginning to feel like you’re trapped, it’s time to find a way to get some time to yourself. Here are six tips to help you cope with caregiving during the final months of winter.
1. Join a Support Group
No one understands how exhausting being a caregiver is like another caregiver. When you have a negative thought — “I have no life of my own and I’m sick of it!” — a caregiver isn’t going to judge you. They’ve had days when no life balance exists and when caregiving feels like too much, too.
Whether you need compassion, caregiving tips, or just an excuse to get out of the house, joining a support group will give you a place where you can safely express caregiver frustration. Hospitals, national associations with local chapters, and even local assisted living communities often offer caregiver support groups for family and caregivers.
If you can’t leave the house, many online groups are also available.
2. Host a Potluck
There are bills to pay, siblings to call, prescriptions to pick up, and appointments to go to. It’s easy to lose track of friendships and to let your social life slide because of caregiving duties. But social isolation can leave you feeling lonely, depressed, or sick — which only makes cabin fever, and caregiving, harder to cope with.
If leaving the house causes more stress than relief, consider hosting a cabin fever potluck. Invite a few friends or neighbors, ask everyone to bring something to share, and keep the gathering laid-back.
3. Try Light Therapy
Depending on where you live, winter can mean many months of cold, dark days, and it can be hard to adjust to the shortage of sunlight in the winter months. It’s estimated that 10 million Americans struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons.
Light therapy is one of the major types of treatment for SAD. It typically involves sitting or working near a specially designed light therapy box that gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. This is especially helpful if you or your loved one have mobility issues or when severe weather forces you to stay inside for days or weeks.
If you have low energy, feel like hibernating, or are struggling with hypersomnia — all common symptoms of SAD — talk to your doctor to see if experimenting with light therapy is right for you.
4. Avoid Binge-Watching
We’re all guilty of binge-watching. It feels so good to crush an entire season of the latest Netflix or Amazon series. Although watching episode after episode of a show can offer you a temporary escape from your day-to-day caregiving grind, binge-watching can quickly become isolating.
As a caregiver, you’re already at risk for social isolation. Try not to substitute TV for human relationships. If you find yourself consistently choosing a night in with Netflix over seeing friends and family, see if you can limit yourself to one episode. And then opt for an activity that engages your brain, increases your heart rate, or connects you with others.
5. Grow Something Small
When you’re feeling trapped and out of sorts, think ahead to spring. Whether you have a green thumb or nothing, indoor gardening can help you cope with caregiving in a variety of ways.
First, gardening is rich with opportunities to practice mindfulness and live in the present moment. Notice the colors of the plants, the smell of the flowers, and the texture of the soil. Second, nurturing a seed or a start into a larger plant can help you feel worthwhile and purposeful. Third, connecting with nature can help you overcome anxiety and lift your mood.
From water gardens and vegetable gardens to air plants and hanging terrariums, there are countless indoor gardening projects that can give you a head start on spring and summer.
6. Book a Respite Stay
When you need to go on vacation or simply want to treat yourself to a pedicure, a short-term respite stay at an assisted living community gives you free time to manage your personal life.
During a respite stay, your loved one will typically stay in a fully furnished suite and enjoy three meals a day, housekeeping and laundry services, personalized care, and a host of stimulating and therapeutic activities.
If taking even a short break from caretaking leaves you feeling guilty, listen up: Taking a break from caregiving doesn’t mean that you’ve failed to take care of your loved one. It means you’re making a smart decision to protect your health and safety in order to provide them the level of care they need. In the long run, self-care will strengthen your ability to be a good caregiver.
Most people know that caregiving will take time out of their day and require a measure of physical and emotional strength. But that only scratches the surface. For many caregivers, transitioning care to an assisted living community not only improves their well-being and provides peace of mind. It also enhances the quality of life of their loved ones.
Interested in learning more? Download How Caregiving for a Parent Changed My Life, an eBook featuring two families whose parents live at The Arbors.