Holidays increase stress for everyone, especially caregivers. A new APA study found that more than 6 out of 10 Americans report significantly more stress during the holidays.
Caregivers need to find ways to manage their stress this holiday season and family and friends can use their holiday gatherings to help them do this. But first they need to open the door to a conversation with the caregiver about how they are doing. Here are tips for them to get this conversation going and allowing the love and support to flow.
1) Begin a respectful, productive conversation with the caregiver without invading their privacy.
Find a private time and place and ask permission to discuss their caregiving situation. For example: “I want to check in with you about how caregiving is going and (not but!) I don’t want to intrude. Can we talk?” There’s no guarantee about how this inquiry will land and what kind of response you’ll get; however, respecting their space by asking for permission to speak about this is a love and support in its own right.
2) Agree about whether this conversation – or part of it – is confidential or not.
This is important in engendering enough trust that the person feels safe sharing what is truly going on for them.
3) Ask questions about the caregiver’s well-being and be a good listener.
This conversation is about being truly present. The best way to see if your help is desired or even appropriate is by your attentively listening and not being too quick to get into problem solving. Ask one or two broad and general questions and then let it happen. For example: “Tell me how it’s going.” “What’s it like for you these days?” “I so much admire all of what you’re doing; how are you managing to do it?”
4) Honor and affirm the caregiver for their generosity, perseverance, and commitment.
Caregiving is one of the most generous acts we can ever be called upon to do – even if we are doing it ambivalently , reluctantly, resentfully, out of sense of guilt etc. We are being called upon to put another’s needs ahead of our own and to be willing to interrupt other priorities we are tending to in our lives. It also calls upon other qualities that may indeed reflect our deepest held values. In fact, it calls upon these even if we’re doing if for some of the less noble reasons I mention above. So, if the spirit of the conversation permits it, offer some affirmation of the way you see that person truly walking their values in the ways they are caregiving.
5) Explore ways to share the care and be part of the caregiver’s circle of support.
If the conversation goes in this direction, ask what you could do in the following week that would lighten their burden in a practical way. You might offer to have a follow up conversation soon to find some follow up ways of helping – directly and also in helping them strengthen their network of support.
6) Offer to help them explore the possibilities of using a caresite.
Caresite is a term I’ve coined for the free websites that are available on the web to help famiIy caregivers let people know what is going on, what they need, when/how they need it, and also to receive loving affirmations and prayers from people who care about them. The most popular caresites are Caring Bridge, Lotsa Helping Hands and CarePages. If this prospect sounds intriguing to them, set up a time to sit by their side and do some exploration of these caresites on the web. Let them know if you would be willing to help them choose and set up a caresite or help them find someone else who can do it. (The current experts these days seem to be people who are 12 years old!).
My big message this holiday season? This all about relationship and connection. Caregivers can not do this alone. You can use the warmth of your holiday gathering to open up the healing possibilities that are right in front of you.