Saturday, December 5, 2009

Caregiver Tip #2: Deck the Freakin' Halls...on YOUR Terms!

Well, ho-ho-ho, Caregivers, it's Holiday Time!

The holidays can be a frantic time. Everybody's in a hurry. Traffic is terrible, weather can be downright dangerous, and schedules are packed. During the holidays, people spend too much, eat too much, drink too much, and spend hours with people they normally try to avoid during the rest of the year!

No wonder tempers are short and people aren't always at their best. Many people feel more isolated and depressed--particularly if they are dealing with grief or serious health problems. The world is screaming at you to "Deck the Halls," and you just don't need anything more on your already full calendar.

Years ago, there was a book entitled "Unplug the Christmas Machine." It invited us to examine the way we celebrate our holidays, with the intention of helping people figure out what they really wanted to do during the holidays--and weed out some of the other things that really don't add that much. Or worse: add stress.

The holidays can impose particilar stresses on caregivers. If ever there was a time which cried out for self-care, this is it!.  

Here are ten tips that may help make your holidays more pleasant and less stressful:

  1. Start by looking at what you have done in past years. What activities have added the most joy? Keep those. What activities have added the most stress? Weed those if you can.
  2. Take a tip from our colleagues in Alcoholics Anonymous. Use their "HALT" acronyn: don't let yourself get too Hungry, too Angry, too Lonely, or too Tired.
  3. Watch your own health by observing these basics:  try to get enough sleep, enough water, enough fresh foods, enough exercise. Don't forget your own health routines.
  4. Re-evaluate holiday spending: give gifts only to kids, draw names, etc.
  5. Think simple for meals: think potlucks!
  6. Remember that alcohol is a depressant. A psychiatrist friend told me that it takes four drinks per week to cancel out the effect of an antidepressant for a woman, six drinks a week for a man. Imagine: alcohol is like the anti-Prozac!
  7. Focus on the things that fill your heart: holiday music, for example. We always try to see the Seattle Men's Chorus during the holidays.
  8. Re-think the time you spend on decorating. Except for our daughter Brita, who loves to decorate, there are no elves! 
  9. Simplify everything you can, but hold onto any routine that supports YOU.
  10. If you have the time, money, etc., do something for yourself: a massage, a pedicure, facial, or just a Gingerbread Latte at Starbucks. Anything to encourage yourself and thank yourself for the considerable work you do every single day.
As you review the list above, see how you can make this holiday season a more enjoyable one for yourself and those around you. In spite of significant challenges, we all have much to be grateful for--everyday.
Take care. Linda Gromko, MD


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