For many caregivers, getting back into their regular daily routine after the hustle and bustle of the holidays can lead to a bout of the blues. It’s important to figure out why you might be feeling down—and know there are plenty of ways to give the winter blahs the boot.
What causes the post-holiday blues
Often it’s just the act of getting back into the routine that brings caregivers down as they face the usual challenges, isolation and boredom. Emotions may have been pushed aside to get through the season that come rushing back now that it’s over. Briefly reconnecting with friends and family may have also brought some feelings of loneliness to the surface and reminded you of the regular connections you may be missing in your day-to-day life.
The demands of caring for your loved one could have also increased this year, making the season more difficult, while also making any changes to their health more visible. They may have slowly lost some of their abilities – such as with dementia and Alzheimer’s – and that decline might be more obvious in the presence of other family members—sparking feelings such as guilt and worry.
“For a caregiver, the changes taking place with their family member delivers a double dose of pain and loss because they are impacted alongside their loved ones as they witness the devastating toll of the disease.”
Practical tips for dealing with the winter doldrums
After the holidays can be the ideal time to schedule a break away from your regular caregiving and family duties. Oregon-based Anthem Memory Care recommends that family caregivers take at least a week off after the celebrations are over:
“For caregivers, the holidays can be especially hectic as you struggle to schedule time for family and friends that include your loved one with dementia. It is not uncommon to find your energy depleted and your frame of mind less than positive. Take steps to carve out some time for yourself.”
Other practical tips for beating the post-holiday caregiver blues include:
- Plan for weekly time away from caregiving and the home, even if it’s only for a few hours.
- Try a new hobby or activity. Even 10 minutes a day can be enough to brighten your spirits.
- Get outside every day for a few minutes to enjoy the fresh air.
- Move your body!
- Try out new recipes and techniques.
- Be sure to have plans and activities to look forward to throughout the year.
It can also help to take comfort in routine while finding little ways to break it up so it doesn’t get boring. This can be as simple as having a spontaneous dance party in the middle of the day or belting out your favorite song while tackling chores. Likewise, try trading out your usual TV time for a jigsaw puzzle or family game night, or switch up your afternoon tea with a fun mocktail every once in a while.
Volunteer with your loved one
The end of the holiday season can also be difficult for your loved one. A lot of these suggestions will also be beneficial to them. If they’re able, consider including them in a volunteer project: This can be a great way to get out of the house if there are opportunities available that can accommodate their abilities, but plenty of options can be done from home:
- Knitting scarves or hats for those in need
- Putting together care packages for unhoused people
- Serving or distributing food through a local charity
- Making or collecting blankets for shelter animals
- Visiting homebound seniors or people with disabilities
Meet your social needs
Instead of letting relationships with friends and family go quiet again after the holidays, it can help to stay in touch and reconnect throughout the year. It will be easier to do so if you reach out right away after the new year when the blues threaten.
Now is also an excellent time to join a caregiver support group where you’ll be able to connect with others facing many of the same challenges. By socializing with fellow caregivers, you’ll gain validation and relieve feelings of isolation.
Social interaction outside of your role as a caregiver is also integral to keeping the doldrums at bay. Friendship networking apps can help you connect with individuals who have similar interests, while social networking platform Meetup offers all sorts of different group activities.
It’s easy to let self-care slide over the holidays, but getting back in the swing of taking care of yourself can help stave off those post-holiday blues. Many caregivers neglect to stay hydrated and fed as holiday demands stretch them too thin, so it may take conscious effort to do so. Make space for daily exercise, meditation and journaling. Slow down for five or 10 minutes, and enjoy a hot drink or tasty treat.
Remember that one important aspect of self-care is asking for help. Not only do you deserve time to attend to your own needs but your loved one deserves a calm and refreshed caregiver. Enlist family members to take over for a while, take advantage of different respite programs in your area – such as the Family Caregiver Support Program – or hire help if you’re able.
Last, but equally important, talk to someone who can help you process your feelings about the challenges that come with being a caregiver and life in general. A trained therapist will help determine if what you’re experiencing is normal or a sign of something more serious like depression or burnout.