Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others This Winter
December 12, 2023 – The holidays can be stressful for nearly everyone. Family and work gatherings abound, the days are colder and shorter, and the regular stressors of life can all impact an individual’s mental well-being. This can be exponentially greater for those who serve as caregivers for their loved ones, medical providers, as well as those living with chronic health conditions.
Caregiver burnout is the “state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that happens while you’re taking care of someone else.” The Cleveland Clinic notes that this is “very common” with studies showing “more than 60% of caregivers experience symptoms of burnout.” Healthcare workers are experiencing burnout, too, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stating, “nearly half of health workers reported often feeling burned out” last year.
When combined with holiday stressors, it is vital that caregivers and healthcare providers take care of themselves while also caring for their patients and loved ones. Recently, we spoke with Briana O’Dwyer, Implementation Manager at MedicoCX, and our own Jennifer Noonan, Senior Director of Clinical Programs and Compliance. Together, they shed light on the impact of the winter season and holidays on caregivers and providers, and share valuable insights on navigating the challenges while ensuring personal well-being during this time of the year.
Caregivers + Providers
You may have heard the saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup” or recall flight attendant instructions when using oxygen masks to “secure your mask first, then help others” when traveling with children or someone who requires assistance. To care for others, you must care for yourself first.
Caregivers can often feel the pressures of needing to be everywhere and do everything for everyone. The holidays can add more pressure and expectations when visiting family or buying and giving gifts, as well. It is important to set healthy boundaries this season – know when to say “no” and know that saying no is okay. At the same time, try not to set so many boundaries that you close yourself off to those who may be genuinely trying to bring light into your life.
This is important for providers, too. In addition to ongoing staffing issues in healthcare, the added stress of the holidays can create a strain on those working in direct and indirect patient care settings. Home health professionals can also be particularly affected when they have patients without family members nearby and solely rely on professionals for their care.
The holidays are hard for many, and it’s important to know that it’s okay to not be okay. If you find yourself struggling with your mental health this holiday season, there are some ways to help manage negative feelings and emotions. This can include taking time for activities that bring you joy – such as going for a short walk, writing in a journal, or talking to a trusted friend. However, if your feelings become unmanageable, know that you are not alone, and help is available if. For additional support, you can seek help at FindSupport.gov, FindTreatment.gov, or 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Caring for Others
For caregivers and providers, there are ways to help ensure their patients and loved ones are able to experience the joys that the holidays can bring:
- Ensure all of their medications (and yours!) are filled in advance to avoid any issues with accessing a pharmacy or medication during the holidays.
- “FOMO,” or the “fear of missing out” can strike when individuals are unable to travel or visit their relatives and loved ones. Keep spirits merry and bright with small acts of kindness, including modifying traditions and bringing the holidays to them.
- Set reasonable expectations for yourself and your loved ones by attending events for only as long as they are able to. Set the ground rules on the premise that it’s okay to not feel okay and pace yourselves.
- Prioritize the events that bring joy and fill their cup.
- Allow time for self-care on both ends – caregivers and loved ones with health conditions – as it provides balance to the natural chaos that comes with being a caregiver during the holidays.
While a joyous season, the holidays can also be difficult to manage, especially for those caring for others, but there are many ways to practice self care and be mindful of your mental health this winter.
Accessia Health also recognizes how chronic health conditions impact mental health and wellness. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), chronic illnesses may make individuals more likely to have or develop a mental health condition. For example, depression is common among people with chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and more. In response, we have added financial assistance for mental health counseling for many of our patient programs.
Remember to take care of yourself, set healthy boundaries, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.