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Your Health
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Family Service Agency Offers Tips to Help Caregivers Survive the Holidays and Beyond

The holidays are busy enough, but for those caring for an elderly or disabled family member, they can be extra challenging. Holiday schedules and expectations can add another layer of stress for caregivers and others who will spend time with their families. The Family Service Agency understands this and offers these tips from its Caregiver Mental Health & Support Program.

1. Cultivate a new relationship dynamic. Many adult children find themselves in the difficult and complicated position of having to “parent” their parents or spouse. This is difficult for all parties. It can be quite a shock to see your loved one less able to care for themselves, while those needing care desperately want to maintain their dignity and independence. Trust is a muscle that must be developed. Caregivers need to trust themselves to make healthy decisions for their loved ones. Those needing care need to trust that their caregivers will respect their wishes. Roles, mindsets and approaches may also require a significant shift.

Tip: Remind yourself that you are not caring for a child, but rather, cultivating a new relationship. Though this may be uncharted territory, you are not alone. Others are also going through this process, and there is support for you in our community.

2. Cooling techniques for your hot buttons. No one can "push our buttons" like family members. Anger can come from longtime unresolved parent-child relationship issues that turn an otherwise ordinary interaction into a conflict.

Tip: When you feel your "buttons are being pushed," try excusing yourself, walk away and take a few moments for yourself. Recognizing that while you can’t change the other person, you can change your own reaction, which helps reduce unhealthy interactions.

3. Turn negative family expectations into positive experiences. Resentment may arise when family members visit from out of town who may not instinctively know how to help. They may be shocked at their loved ones’ physical or cognitive decline and may seem judgmental. In a perfect world, they would know how to help, give you credit for all you do, and willingly pool resources for the best interests of all. But if this is unlikely, you can lighten your load by managing your expectations.

Tip: If they are able and willing, give family members "a job" while they’re in town, from household shopping, errands or repairs to taking your senior parent out for an activity or scheduling time for favorite games, or movies at home. If not, try to focus on the positive reasons for their visit and make a conscious choice to enjoy in the fun as time allows.

4. The beauty of letting go. Nothing drains our energy like getting caught up “in the moment” in an argument. Accepting that your aging parent or partner or sibling may not change will help you take a step back and let go of things, small and large, that can’t be resolved in the moment. Remind yourself that you are doing the best that you can, and that the stress of the argument is unhealthy for both of you.

Tip: Instead of insisting on a solution, offer them options to consider, “agree to disagree” or to talk about it again at a set time, then move on to something you can enjoy doing together.

5. Find meaning in what your loved one can offer. When you feel like you are running as fast as you can just to keep on top of your loved one’s basic needs, you may forget that they can still be there for you, too.

Tip: Ask their advice about something you are dealing with in your life. Helping them feel empowered and important will help both of you.

6. Don’t wait to get support. “As caregivers, we must learn to take care of our own needs to be at our best for the health and safety of those we are caring for,” said Cynthia McNulty, LCSW, Family Service Agency Senior Services Program manager. “Most of us are entirely unprepared to embrace the challenges of caregiving. We become increasingly preoccupied with day-to-day tasks while neglecting to attend to the profound ways in which caregiving changes our life, our relationships, and ourselves. It often takes another person to help us reflect and process through these experiences and feelings.”

Tip: Let a friend help by listening, or offering a shoulder to lean on. Simply talking with a caring friend about what you’re going through can bring relief and re-energize you. Family Service Agency can also help. Their free counseling programs and referrals to community-based organizations support caregivers, families and seniors.

— Flannery Hill is a publicist representing the Family Service Agency.

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