2021 Resolutions for Caregivers

Senior Care

Here we are: it’s a brand new year! So many of us are breathing a sigh of relief to see 2020 in the rearview mirror, and to have the fresh start of a new year. It’s a traditional time of the year to set goals and make resolutions, so in our first blog post of 2021, we’re offering up six new year’s resolutions that family caregivers might like to adopt this year. 

1. I will take care of myself first.

The old adage about “putting your own oxygen mask on first” is a common refrain in caregiving – but that’s because it’s true. It’s easy to forget about the care you need in your efforts to be the best caregiver possible, but it’s very important to resist the temptation to do so and to care for yourself first. 

This year, make an effort to fulfill your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. These needs will look a bit different for everyone, but there are lots of ways to start: reserving time to spend with your family with no screens allowed, eating more vegetables, moving your body every day, practicing gratitude or prayer, speaking with a therapist, and/or speaking to your physician about any physical or mental health struggles you’re having. In the first few months of the year, check in with yourself and see if you might be experiencing any of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder . After the particularly stressful year we’ve all just lived through, self-care is more important than ever.

And remember: as we’ve discussed before , as a caregiver, caring for yourself is also an important way that you enable yourself to provide the best care possible to others. Your health and happiness have an impact on your loved ones, too. 

2. I will ask for help.

“Ask for help” is another common piece of advice given to caregivers that isn’t always easy to follow. Maybe it feels easier to do everything yourself rather than explaining your loved one’s care needs to someone else. Maybe it’s hard to put your loved one’s care in someone else’s hands. Maybe you don’t want to transfer your caregiving stress onto someone else’s shoulders. Maybe the price of professional care isn’t currently affordable for your family. Whatever reason you have for not asking for help, try to put it aside in 2021 and reach out to someone. 

Just like self-care, help looks different for every family caregiver. It might mean hiring a professional caregiver for a few hours each week. Or it could mean drawing up a care schedule with other family members so that everyone is contributing – and if you’re trying to keep your loved one’s social bubble as small as possible, remember that there are parts of caregiving that can be done from afar, too, like paying bills, ordering groceries, or making medical appointments. 

If there are reasons that you need to be in charge of the majority of the care for your elderly loved one(s), then ask for help in other areas of your life, such as housekeeping, cooking, organization, or childcare. 

3. I will not be made to feel guilty about cautious choices.

Lately, we’ve seen the beginning of COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, and many of us are starting to feel optimism about approaching the end of the pandemic. It’s also important that we remember, however, that it will take several months to vaccinate the majority of the population. 

As we wait for vaccines to be widely available, COVID-19 will remain a concern – the development of a vaccine doesn’t change that. Additionally, we don’t currently know if the vaccinations prevent us from contracting COVID-19 altogether, or if they simply decrease or eliminate symptoms, which means that people who have been vaccinated may still potentially be able to spread the virus

Because of this, you should not let yourself be made to feel guilty for continuing to exercise appropriate caution in line with public health guidelines where you live, the advice of your/your senior loved one’s doctor, and how many people in your family or social bubble have been vaccinated. Choosing to take care of the health of your loved ones - and, by extension, the health of your community members - is not ‘boring,’ ‘naïve,’ or ‘wet blanket’ behaviour. It takes strength and resolve to continue to prioritize the wellness and safety of those around you.

4. I will acknowledge tough days and negative emotions.

It can be tempting to ignore or repress negative feelings – after all, they’re not particularly enjoyable to experience. But it’s not actually healthy to do so, or to try and force yourself to have a more positive outlook or more optimistic feelings. Pressuring yourself to adopt a ‘glass half-full’ attitude is part of something called “toxic positivity” which can be defined as “an assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset.”

On the surface, this may seem like a good thing, since we all want to feel positive, happy emotions. But in reality, it isn’t. A psychologist notes that “avoidance or suppression of emotional discomfort leads to increased anxiety, depression, and overall worsening of mental health.”

So, when you feel negative emotions like sadness, stress, anger, or anxiety, allow yourself to take time to feel those emotions and acknowledge their presence. Discuss your feelings with a family member, friend, or therapist, or write about them in a journal. You might want to try a relaxing app like Calm or Headspace , or joining a support group for caregivers. If you need to push your feelings to the back of your mind for a few hours to get through the day, that’s fine, but don’t let them linger and fester for too long. 

5. I will relish the joyful moments.

While it’s important to make space for your more difficult emotions, it’s also important to enjoy your positive emotions and the moments of joy you find in your caregiving experience. When you and your senior loved one have a good day together, try to let go of some of your stress and enjoy that good day, whether that means laughing together, discussing memories, doing an activity, or accomplishing something as a team. 

Maybe you’ll find you want to take a photo of your happy moments together, or write down the details of your day in a journal. This can be beneficial for both you and your loved one, since you might wish to share photos or details of an enjoyable day with your loved one on another occasion. If you have siblings or children, they will likely also value having happy memories recorded.

6. I will give myself grace. 

Caregiving isn’t easy. It’s incredibly important, infinitely valuable, and at times immensely rewarding, but it also has demands, challenges, and complications. You cannot expect yourself to be the perfect caregiver at all times, to perform every single task with ease, or to avoid ever feeling frustrated. This year, let go of the unrealistic expectations you have for yourself as a caregiver and choose to give yourself grace instead. 

“Giving yourself grace” is a phrase with religious connotations, but it’s also been used colloquially and secularly to mean showing kindness to yourself. No matter whether you interpret it religiously or secularly, try to implement grace in your life. Refrain from punishing yourself with negative self-talk when you struggle with something or don’t manage to complete something. Be patient with yourself and compassionate towards yourself, and forgive yourself for things you might see as errors or failures. In 2021, try to show yourself the same gentleness you show to those you love.