“JOY TO THE WORLD”
The sounds of strolling carolers, or neighbours singing, the church organ playing, music on radio and TV, videos on social media, CDs playing while making holiday cookies; meeting friends for a drink of cheer and laughter, or walking in the snow—all enhance the excitement of the holiday season for many families each year.
The words of songs and holiday stories stir up visions of happy times together with families and friends. Sadly, this year of COVID has intensified the lack of these experiences for many, but particularly for caregivers, who find their challenges have already diminished their moments of joy.
IT CAN BE DIFFICULT at the best of times for caregivers, especially for those caring for loved ones with memory loss, to feel hopeful and happy during the winter holidays. And even more so if they have been giving care to the same person for a number of years.
There is no doubt that caregiving is exhausting. Life’s little happy moments show up less and less, and caregivers can become numb to the glitter, glamour and excitement of the holidays. Sometimes it seems easier to just let the holidays pass, unnoticed. Sometimes a state of depression seems safer than trying to lift a heavy heart and gloomy spirit to join in merry festivities.
But articles and studies indicate it is not really healthy to withdraw from the social and iconic traditions of holiday festivities and gatherings. And perhaps, not really necessary. There are ways to maintain a healthy mental outlook to enjoy special times. It is worthwhile remembering that caregiving can be a long road and sustaining good mental health must be on top of the caregiver’s self-care list.
Good mental health for caregivers is important enough that it must be consciously addressed. Consider how you might help yourself step away from the suction of depression, the heavy heart and gloomy spirit, by spending a few moments, or hours in honour of your own care!
Whether a caregiver or someone who cares enough to support caregivers,
CONSIDER how these suggestions might be helpful:
ADD SOMETHING TO YOUR ‘GRATEFUL LIST’ or your Appreciation Journal, daily. In his book “Upward Spiral,” neuroscientist Alex Korb, M.D. explains that practicing gratitude is one of many pathways to an upward spiral to happiness.
It may seem counter intuitive but when we are ‘down,’ if we start counting our blessings we feel better. And when we feel better, we can care better. And when we care better, our burdens of caregiving seem less. Somehow, it works, beginning with being grateful.
CALL AND CHECK ON SOMEONE. It will make your life fuller to have someone new to check on. One time or more. But at the holidays especially. I am grateful to those who check on us time and time again. I know how good it makes me feel to hear their voice in a time when I cannot go out. And in turn, I can call one person and hopefully make their day brighter.
COLLECT UPLIFTING QUOTES. Hard as it may seem to believe, other people have walked in our shoes. Learn from them. Look for their encouragement in their words. Find and save quotations that make you feel good, ones you can read over and over and each time feel better than just moments before. Save them where you can find them, whether in a notebook or in a computer file.
LISTEN TO FAVOURITE MUSIC. Music makes us feel better. “When you listen to a song you really like, dopamine [a neurotransmitter] is released into your brain. The effect of this is simple – you feel good! Brain scans have shown that this dopamine rush is at its peak when you reach the part of the song you love most or in the 15 seconds leading up to it.”
The dopamine spreads the good feelings and make you feel better. Make a playlist of music to play or keep those special CDs close by. Get up and dance if it makes you feel good. It is your mental health that is being soothed…’work it!’
BRING OUT THE FAMLY ALBUMS OR PHOTOS. Holidays mean family to many, so it makes sense to explore more about your family during times you are together, zoom or by email, phone or even by going through your genealogy information. Good feelings arise when you reflect on former holidays spent together, good feelings surface when you see photos of those you especially are or were close to. Be the instigator of your own good feelings by finding photographs and put them where you can see them.
INCLUDE COOKING FOR HOLIDAY UPLIFT. Sensory memories seem to last a long time. Associating certain foods with happy moments awakens those happy memories. Make cookies, or gingerbread, fruit breads, or even let wassail simmer on the stove. Cook a small turkey and dressing to fill the home with holiday memories. Take time to recreate whatever soothes your sense of smell to bring those ‘feeling good’ memories to life.
SHARE WITH FAMILY, FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS. In the pandemic we have missed meeting our social needs. If there are ways to share with friends and neighbours and family, drop a basket of wrapped treats, a book or a meaningful item on their front porch or inside their door. Better yet, make arrangements for a hand-off time and a quick masked smile and wave.
Perhaps, you can stand in the yard and they can stand on the porch and sing carols together. Sounds of music can go through the mask materials. Christmas cards are becoming less of a tradition because of the time it takes to write them out. So instead, write one Christmas letter and send it out. People who enjoy hearing from you will love getting it. They are ones you care about.
ZOOM / TEAMS / FACETIME often, with family members rotating in ‘the chair’ so loved ones get to be part of the festivities and close to loved ones. For those who need help, a phone appointment for a few moments might be a luxury but take it. People on both ends of a call benefit from connecting. Remember to ‘take a picture’ of the event, print screen, and send them a photo of the event afterwards.
REMEMBER TO BE THANKFUL for these opportunities. Let them warm your heart. Doing for others has a way of lifting us from our own depressed moments so we, too, can enjoy our special times during the holidays.
I wish you all a year ahead filled with love, awareness, kindness, gratefulness, and appreciation for the blessings we have had. May the hard times be dwarfed by the memorable moments you can return to over and over in your mind. I wish you good health, friendships, and easy times.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS, wherever you are, whatever you may celebrate. May 2021 bring you all that makes you happy, all that is meaningful and all that is beautiful. May you know how to walk away from unhealthy situations to keep your world a kinder, wholesome place.
Amen. – Judy Shone
Each day do something to make others smile and your heart sing!
In paperback, hardcover and ebook
Holiday happiness for a floundering caregiver!!
Available online: from Amazon and other booksellers
Order locally through:
A Different Drummer Books in Burlington, Ontario
Barnes & Noble in US
Chapters/Indigo in Canada
Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colorado,
The Bookworm in Omaha, Nebraska,
or other local booksellers.
Caregiver Holidays (c) 2020 Judith Allen Shone