There is a tremendous sense of loss and grief associated with caring for someone you love who is aging, disabled, or chronically ill — especially when you are witnessing their steady decline. Couple that with being isolated and confined to your own home, and it can be very difficult to maintain your emotional balance.
If you’re like a lot of people, your television may be your primary source of information, entertainment, and companionship. And if you’ve been following the news lately, you might be struggling to find anything joyful in this holiday season or hopeful for the New Year.
How to Avoid Falling into a Pit of Despair
Nothing will make this journey easy, but there are five steps that might help lift your spirits and bring a little cheer into what could feel like a very gloomy season:
- Monitor your intake of news. Watching around-the-clock coverage about the latest refugee crisis, police shooting, drug bust, or mass murder will only generate feelings of sadness, frustration, and fear. Turn off the TV, or at the very least get a DVR so you can record the programs you like. You can get a DVR through your cable provider and it will allow you to fast forward through the commercial breaks. In the upcoming year, billions and billions of dollars will be spent on political ads. Regardless of your party affiliation, they will make you will feel angry about something. So, give yourself the option to turn them off if they upset you!
- Be particular about the shows you watch for entertainment. I tried to rent a movie from Red Box last week, and after sorting through the titles, I walked away disgusted. The movies that weren’t about crime, murder, or horror, were moronic comedies. If you can’t find anything inspiring, uplifting, or genuinely funny, read a book, call a friend, or go for a walk. Don’t waste your time on entertainment that doesn’t entertain.
- Listen to music. It has long been known that listening to music can calm nerves, reduce stress, ease pain, relieve feelings of depression, lessen anxiety and improve cognitive performance. Dr. Barry Bittman, neurologist and CEO of Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute, has published several studies that show music can actually improve health. In his latest study, he concluded, “Human stress and relaxation responses may be controlled by different molecular pathways. Relaxation through active engagement in Recreational Music Making may be more effective than quiet reading at altering gene expression and thus more clinically useful for stress amelioration.”
- Join a support group. If there isn’t one that meets regularly in your area, find a support buddy that you can call when you’re feeling down or stressed. If you don’t have access to a group and don’t know anyone who is in a similar situation, go to my website CaregiverHelp.com and click on Caregiver Videos. Our family caregiver support program includes nearly five hours of entertaining and informative videos along with downloadable PDF worksheets that will help you understand and cope with the anger, guilt, depression and grief associated with caregiving. There is a module that will help you understand and respond to dementia-related challenging behaviors and one that will help you develop a personalized self-care plan. It’s free and there are no commercials.
- Volunteer to help someone less fortunate. I know this may sound ridiculous (especially when you are already spending a great deal of your time and energy caring for a loved one), but there is a profound joy that comes with giving to someone who is in dire need of help. Recently, a group of friends in our church informally “adopted” a refugee family from Iraq. As a group we have pooled our knowledge, skills, and resources to help this very deserving family. In return, our friendships have grown closer, we feel good about ourselves for our individual contributions, and more than anything, we have become aware of how incredibly blessed we are. Our aches and pains and concerns about ourselves have diminished greatly, and we have a renewed awareness of how privileged we are to be citizens of the United States of America.
Maintaining a positive attitude as a caregiver takes extraordinary effort under the best of circumstances. Understand that you are performing one of the most difficult and generous acts of love any of us will ever be called upon to do on behalf of another. Congratulate yourself for finding the strength and courage to get up every morning and face another day. Forgive yourself for the times that fatigue, frustration or fear cause you to respond in a way you regret. And more than anything, believe in the promise of love, joy, hope and peace that brings us together to celebrate Christmas.
Elaine K. Sanchez is a caregiver speaker, author, and co-founder of CaregiverHelp.com, a video-based family caregiver support program. She writes the caregiver blog, “Caregiver Help Word of the Day”. Elaine and her husband, Dr. Alex Sanchez, have also developed a number of online continuing education courses for social workers and other mental health professionals, including Caregiver Help: Sex & Dementia, Caregiver Help: Anger & Guilt and Caregiver Help: Depression and Grief.