Thanksgiving is an important holiday because it encourages Americans to take time to gather with friends and family and celebrate all that we have in our lives. In a world where there is plenty to worry about, Thanksgiving is a welcome respite.
For those caring for loved ones with dementia, finding things to be thankful for can be challenging, even on Thanksgiving. The chronic worry and concern for your loved one along with the stress of handling all their needs as well as yours may make those moments of thankfulness feel out of reach.
Moreover, Thanksgiving ushers in the holiday season with its own unique set of challenges. In many instances you find yourself running interference to help buffer all the hustle and bustle of holiday celebrations. It may be hard to relax long enough to grab those precious moments of peace and joy.
Yet there are small steps that can be taken to slowly cultivate an ongoing sense of thankfulness, not just on Thanksgiving, but all year long. Learning to do so can help bolster your peace of mind even during difficult days.
Research bears this out. A study cited in Greater Good Magazine involved 170 family caregivers of individuals with dementia. They were split into two groups. The first group simply reported their day-to-day observances and issues. The other group received a video call each day from a coach who trained them to develop these skills:
- Noticing and acknowledging positive events. Focusing on good things in their lives and sharing their thoughts about them with others or writing them down to recall regularly.
- Being mindful. They learned a guided breathing exercise and were encouraged to focus on the present moment without judgement. Learning how to incorporate mindfulness in daily activities such as washing dishes or brushing teeth.
- Recognizing their own personal strengths. Being aware of all the personal resources that are available at their disposal and how to enact them in their lives. This was presented as an antidote to the sense of feeling helpless.
- Setting attainable goals. They were coached on creating goals that challenged them but were not overly challenging, enabling them to feel a sense of accomplishment and success.
The study found that, compared to the second group of caregivers, those caregivers who were coached on positive emotion skills began to experience less depression and more positive emotions. They reported feeling less anxious and began to experience more of the positive aspects of being family caregivers, including feeling appreciated, useful and connected.
Could these steps work for you? The answer is “yes”, but it’s important to realize that nothing happens overnight. As with working to build any new habit, big changes begin with small, consistent steps.
The good news is that you don’t have to take this journey alone. There is an abundance of resources available for family caregivers to help meet special challenges and provide breathing room to keep the spirit of thankfulness alive. Consider contacting one of our Anthem Memory Care communities and learn more about our respite care as well as our dementia support groups. These are lifesavers for caregivers, providing a supportive environment in which to share your thoughts and struggles with others, with assistance from our professional therapists.
While there will be plenty of challenging days ahead, when you dig down deep there is always something to be thankful for. And, when you find that something, it makes all the difference.