How to Survive the Winter When Spring is Still Months Away
I read an article about how people send more negative tweets the Monday after New Year’s than any other day of the year. The writer suggested that people aren’t excited about going back to work and they’re feeling down because they over-indulged and over-spent during the holidays.
I tried to imagine how my mother would have responded to that article. I suspect she might have said, “Oh, poor babies! You’re feeling fat and broke. I’m so sorry for you. Tell you what, I’ll go to work and to the gym for you if you’ll come to my house and take care of my husband.”
January is not June, and people of all ages and stages of life get the winter blahs. And if you’re a caregiver, it can be especially difficult to remain positive and optimistic. Here are five steps that may help you avoid feeling depressed when you look out the window or at your calendar and realize that spring is still months away.
Winter Survival Tips for Caregivers
- Expose yourself to light. Keeping your house light and bright can help. At the very least, shoo away the darkness by opening your blinds and turning on the lights first thing in the morning. A lot of people are affected by SAD––Seasonal Affective Disorder. There are special light bulbs you can purchase in places like Home Depot that mimic natural light. An article published by the Mayo Clinic talks about the benefits of buying a light box to help lessen feelings of depression during the long nights and dark days of winter. )
- Exercise. Moderate exercise on a regular basis can help increase your balance, strength, and stamina. Studies have shown that it also has a beneficial impact on cognitive functions, including your ability to process information, focus on tasks, and make sound judgments. Walking or doing some other form of physical exercise for at least half an hour, five times a week, will release endorphins in your brain and improve your mood.
- Make plans for pleasure. Being able to anticipate an enjoyable activity in the future can help lift your spirits. It’s also important to set aside a little time each day to do something just for yourself. What you do doesn’t matter as long as you have something on your schedule that provides you with a few blissful moments when you can do something you want to do.
- Focus on friendship. If most of the conversations you have with your care receiver revolve around medication schedules, pain levels, and bowel functions, you might be feeling starved for meaningful, connected conversations. If so, it will be helpful to look for opportunities to deepen relationships with existing friends and possibly develop some new ones.
Caregiver support groups that meet regularly can introduce you to new people while at the same time providing a tremendous resource for inspiration, education, and encouragement. If you crave a different type of interaction, volunteer to help a nonprofit organization that does work that is meaningful to you.
We all need socialization, and being with people you like and trust, who will let you rant and help you laugh, will help avert feelings of isolation and loneliness that can quickly lead to depression.
- Seek help. It doesn’t matter how much you love your care receiver, one person cannot care for another twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week without becoming physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Accept that getting help is necessary and beneficial to both you and your care receiver. Check out the Elder Care Locator website. It is a service provided by the US Administration on Aging. When you enter your zip code, you will see a list of services that are available in your area, such as:
- Adult Day Care Programs
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Behavioral Health
- Caregiver Services
- Elder Abuse Prevention
- Financial Assistance
- Food & Nutrition
- Health Insurance
- Healthy Aging
- Home Repair & Modification
- Housing Options
- In-Home Services
- Legal Assistance
- Long Term Care Options
During the Darkest Days of Winter, Trust That Spring Will Arrive
I met a friend for lunch shortly before Christmas. We had both been snowbound for several days and we were feeling a little grumpy about all of the errands and projects we’d had to postpone because of the weather. When we were finally able to get out of our houses, it was a special treat. She gave me tea towel that she’d purchased at a craft fair. The artist had painted this saying on the towel: “There has never been a spring when the flowers forgot to bloom.”
That statement lifted my spirits instantly as it reminded me that dawn always follows dark, and that no matter how bleak the weather is now, it will eventually give way to spring.
As you look out your window today, if you see slush, sleet, or snow, try to think about the life force that is at work in the crocus, hyacinth, and tulip bulbs buried in the ground. When you look at the naked branches of your trees, trust that buds are forming and that new life is in the process of emerging. This winter, like all winters, will rage and bluster and create havoc for people in countless ways, but it won’t last forever. So, do whatever you need to do to maintain your physical strength and emotional balance — so that when spring does arrive and the flowers do start to bloom, you’ll have the physical strength and emotional stamina to get outside and enjoy them.
Elaine K Sanchez is a caregiver speaker and author. The second edition of her unflinchingly honest and surprisingly funny book, Letters from Madelyn: Chronicles of a Caregiver, is available online and in bookstores. Her passion for helping people cope with the emotional stress of caregiving is based on her own experience of caring for family elders. Visit her website, CaregiverHelp.com for caregiver resources, including her videos, blogs, and contact information.