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It’s the New Year and that time that we start thinking about how we’re going to do things differently, and better, in the next year. Perhaps you’d like to shed those holiday pounds by going to the gym every day, take a new class or read more. The New Year is a good time to make a change or at least think about making a change.

However, as a former full-time family caregiver who knows how stressful the role can be, I’d like to offer an alternative to the sometimes challenging and often failed exercises in willpower. Instead of tormenting yourself with a difficult-to-achieve resolution, resolve to be gentler to yourself this year.

Caregivers typically spend much of their day focused on a loved one’s intense needs with little time to think about themselves. Caregivers need more self-care, not more discipline.

Here are my top three New Year’s resolutions for the many dedicated people who spend their days caring for others:

Be kind to yourself. This will mean different things to different people, but the idea is to find ways to give yourself the gift of kindness. Perhaps when you’re feeling overwhelmed or need a break, you can find a way to create a little, enjoyable moment that will ease your load. The moment might be simply taking a minute to pause and look out the window at the clouds or a lush tree, and enjoy the beauty right in front of you.

Or perhaps you would prefer to read an article from a magazine that you normally don’t have time to enjoy. Pull out that magazine and give yourself permission to immerse yourself in it. Or maybe you would benefit from going outside to garden or walk around the block. Just seeing a different view of the world than the interior of your home can feel good.

Whatever might help you feel better, give yourself permission to do just that.

Let go of guilt. Like many caregivers, I found that when my husband Don suffered a massive stroke in 2005, I entered a new world where I struggled in numerous ways. I sometimes felt guilty for taking time for myself or not caring for him “perfectly.” It was so hard to manage everything, but I felt so much better when I started to forgive myself and letting go of some of the guilt and self-blame.

It’s important to remember that we’re all human, and we can’t behave like perfect caretaking robots. If we make a misstep or many missteps, that’s actually perfectly normal.

One way to help address guilt is to consider why you’re feeling guilty. Did you hurt your loved one’s feelings with something you said or did? Or did you feel bad for taking some time for yourself while maintaining a busy caretaking and/or work schedule?

If it’s the former, apologize and try to do better in future as delays in addressing a wrong just prolong the guilt. If it’s the latter, the guilt may stem from healthily caring for yourself, which can feel uncomfortable at first, but is nothing to feel guilty about. In fact, taking care of yourself is necessary to the health of both you and your loved one.

Find some support. This can be tricky as you may not know where to look or how to find support. But if you take some time to think, you may realize that you have friends or relatives who can be supportive if you reach out. Some might only be able to listen every so often when you need to vent, but this can be incredibly helpful. Others might be able to visit occasionally with your loved one and give you a reprieve for a couple of hours.

Or maybe you would like to seek out new people who can understand your changed circumstances. Support groups, whether online or in person, can help you feel less isolated, while also providing tips from fellow caregivers’ experiences. A professional therapist also can provide a tremendous means of objective advice and counsel.

Whatever you do, make sure your resolution is one that feels healthy and right, but doesn’t place another burden on you. Resolve to make this year one where you give yourself permission to do things that help you feel a little better, stronger and supported, whatever they may be.

Thank you for reading. —Kathi Koll

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