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The Post-Holiday Blues

Posted 12/28/2016 by UHBlog

If the stress of caring for a loved one is dragging you down, we can help you recalibrate.

The Post-Holiday Blues

Serving as the primary caregiver for a seriously ill or disabled child, spouse or aging parent can be isolating. That’s why you probably look forward to frequent family gatherings between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, which offer opportunities for support and companionship that may be lacking during the rest of the year.

But what happens on January 2 when everyone goes back to school or work and you resume caring for your loved one on your own?

“You need to take care of yourself and your fundamental needs or (the situation) can create caregiver burnout,” says geriatric psychiatrist Philipp Dines, MD, PhD. “That doesn’t serve the person you’re providing care for and it’s detrimental to yourself.”

Dr. Dines suggests using the holidays as an opportunity to set yourself up for success during the rest of the year. He recommends:

  • Enjoying the season. Cherish every moment you have with visiting family and the person you are caring for.
  • Speaking up. At an appropriate time during their visit, share your concerns with loved ones, but don’t cast yourself as a victim.
    “Say, ‘This is an important responsibility and I’m very concerned about providing good care, but I’m a human being, too, and I have needs,’” Dr. Dines says. “You may be the primary provider, but it’s not realistic to expect you to be the sole provider. Talk to family about ways to make the responsibility more manageable.”
  • Listening. Sometimes caregivers get so wrapped up in tending to their loved one that they shun help from relatives or dismiss their suggestions outright. Dr. Dines says it’s important to be open-minded about observations family members share during holiday visits.
  • Making a plan. Turn discussions into action. With the help of loved ones, devise a schedule for in-town relatives to provide a few hours of much-needed relief. If feasible, agree to hire a part-time aide or enroll the person you are caring for in a daycare program.

Even with the best-laid plans, there may be moments when you find yourself down in the dumps come January. Dr. Dines says you can keep yourself focused and energized throughout the year by carving out time to do something you enjoy – like exercising, volunteering or participating in a book club. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, he suggests attending a support group, especially one that is specific to the person you’re caring for, such as a group for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. It's also appropriate to request resources from the doctor of the person you’re caring for or to seek individual counseling.

Dr. Dines advises talking to your primary care doctor or a mental health professional if you exhibit any of these symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Despair
  • Change in mood
  • Loss of energy
  • Increased irritability
  • Deviation from optimal levels of function

“Ideally, you don’t want to wait for things to get that dire,” he says. “That’s why it’s so important to reach out to family and anticipate the long-term needs of the person you’re caring for so you can deal with the situation.”

Philipp Dines, MD, PhD is medical director of Inpatient Neurogeropsychiatric Service and medical director and program director of Geriatric Psychiatry at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Dines or any other doctor online.

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