Kathi Koll Foundation - New Year Fresh Start

A new year can be a time to reflect. How did the previous year work for me, my family, my community, the world? What could I change to bring more light into the coming year?

Sometimes potential changes can be personal, such as improving health or tackling a desired project. However, as a caregiver, the caregiving part of the equation may need extra attention. Caregiving can provide joy, but it can also create pain—both mental and physical.

Up to 70 percent of caregivers have clinically significant levels of depression, while 63 percent of caregivers report moderate to high stress levels. Physical health suffers among caregivers, especially those who help with tasks like feeding and toileting. The health toll rises with the number of years that someone provides care, while certain factors like high income can reduce the stress a caregiver experiences.

If stress of any kind has taken a toll during your past year of caregiving, what can you do in the upcoming year to alleviate that stress? The solution will be unique for each caregiver, but making even small changes can bring large benefits to your life.

So how can you make your 2020 caregiving year a happy one? Here are some ideas to inspire you:

1) Experiment with Meditation

If the idea of meditating seems overwhelming and like just one more task to add to your to-do list, consider ways to incorporate it into your life without adding an extra activity. Meditation reduces depression by 75 percent and increases immunity to disease by 50 percent, which may exactly counteract the caregiving health risks. Meditation can also be done without adding a new activity, for example while walking to the car, driving to the grocery store, or caring for a loved one. All meditation requires is taking a moment to notice your breathing and bringing your thoughts to the present physical moment without judgment. It can also be done while falling asleep. There are myriad meditation apps that may help. The most popular is Insight Timer, which offers more than 30,000 free meditations to try, and some are just a few minutes long. Try one and see if it reduces your stress. You may be surprised by the immediate benefits you experience.

2) Reduce Your Isolation

Caregiving and isolation often go hand in hand, especially for full-time caregivers. Countering the problem can be intimidating and problematic. However, for your health, it can and must be done. So if you are feeling alone, consider what you like to do with others, and find ways to do those things. For example, if you can’t leave a mother with dementia at home alone, invite others to visit at a monthly potluck. Perhaps make a list of friends to text or call regularly, or maybe ask them if you could schedule a weekly group phone call to vent together. If you have few friends, reach out on social media, such as Meetup or Nextdoor, to find people with similar interests in your area. Consider a book club if you like to read—your local library may have one—or perhaps have a board game night if that sounds fun. If your most pressing need is to connect with other caregivers, investigate some caregiving support groups as they can be invaluable resources for friendship and support.

3) Accept Help

The biggest challenge many caregivers face is allowing others to help. Caregivers are often take-charge, caring people who know how to get things done. However, caregiving can humble the most organized and loving person in the world. Caregivers need help; they can’t do it alone. So if this is a problem for you, make the upcoming year the year you say “yes” to help. Reach out to local organizations and people, ranging from Meals on Wheels to the governmental Department of Aging. Sometimes a local high school may even have teens who would relish the opportunity to step into your life and help your loved one. Let them and see if that extra help brings a sparkle to your year.

Also, congratulations on the gift you gave to your loved one through caregiving last year. Your caregiving has been an invaluable gift of love, and, as you contemplate your past year, take time to appreciate yourself for all you did. Remember, you are precious and wonderful, and your loved one is lucky to have you.

Thank you for reading and Happy New Year! -Kathi Koll

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