Self-care for caregivers in menopause
Meet Crystal. She has two grown children who are out of the house. She has two jobs: one as a waitress and bookkeeper for a prominent restaurant, the other as the main caregiver for her husband Randy who had a stroke 2 years ago.
One job is paid. The other is not.
Crystal can’t tell what is really keeping her up at night. Is it the hormones? Is it stress and hyper-vigilance listening for her husband to call for help? Only when the hot flashes come can she attribute it specifically to menopause. She has help when her kids are home for a weekend visit and she can get a shower, sleep a little more, and ask them to go to the store for her. But there isn’t much more.
She’s worried. She’s depressed. She feels alone.
Family and friends seem to have scattered. They were very kind to offer help, and some did help when Randy first got out of the hospital. But they all got busy with their lives and there seemed to be an awkward kind of tension in talking.
Randy is 15 years older than Crystal and the love of her life. It’s hard. Every day it’s hard.
Crystal isn't alone
Right now, according to the American Society on Aging (ASA), there are 65 million people who are providing unpaid care to chronically ill, disabled, or aged family members during the course of any given year.
The value of this unpaid care? 375 billion. Dollars.
Would you be terribly surprised to know that these caregivers are primarily women between the ages of 40-60? And of course, they're right in the heart of a major hormone change that affects moods, their physical bodies, and more: menopause.
In the US, November marks National Family Caregivers Month, and though it’s challenging to read about and think about women like Crystal, it’s even more challenging to live it for those in that role.
Let’s check-in about a few simple things you can do right now to increase and improve incoming support.
You're in menopause and a caregiver
- Decide to do one small thing for you, first thing in the morning. For those who already do this, add one small thing for you right before bed. It doesn't need to be grandiose or expensive, just a small thing you do for you, like listening to music or a podcast as you get ready for bed or for the day, or taking time to sit down for that cup of tea or snack, rather than eating, rushed, over the sink. It counts as self-care when you count it.
- Find and reach out to a community of women who are going through something similar: menopause, grief, caregiving. When you’re feeling alone and depressed, it may feel better to hear about what’s going on with others.
- Check in with your doctor (or our doctors via telemed) about your health — emotional, mental, and physical.
- Ask for help. This is really difficult for so many women who feel it’d just be easier to do it all themselves. And in the short term, it may be. But this is not a sustainable long-term solution. The nature of a life similar to Crystal’s is utterly depleting on many fronts. Consider asking “how” instead of “what”... such as “How can you help me?” and let the conversation flow from there.
Here come the holidays
If anyone's asking what you want in terms of gifts, you'll be doing them a favor by sharing specifically what you would love and could use.
A few ideas might include support around taking breaks or getting respite care:
- Dinner delivered. Local restaurant delivery is becoming more and more available, or share the link to Freshly, or Factor 75 to deliver meals that have been prepped and just need to be reheated. This will get some good nutrition into the house without you having to shop, prep, or cook (as much) in the kitchen.
- Coffee or gift cards toward something indulgent and/or fun. Something you really enjoy and don't often get for yourself.
- An hour to come and sit with your loved one while you take a shower or get some other self-care in.
- A funny book or movie. Are there a couple of titles you've been meaning to read or see? Even if they seem to be outdated, the funny stuff can give you a real lift.
What else sounds good to you? What have you been missing or longing for, that another person might be able to assist with?
More support, not less
With the added stress of the holiday season, joyful or not, you may experience some major flare ups of menopause symptoms: hot flashes, depression, anxiety. You may skip "irritability" altogether and proceed right to rage.
Extra support by way of a counselor, therapist, or trusted friend, plus more self-care, will help you navigate and process feelings, fears, and the ups and downs of this tricky business as well. The holiday season may spark additional, or old, feels that you just didn't see coming.
These ideas may spur new inspirations for you and your family and friends. Talk about what’s going on. Women who are workers and caregivers who are going through menopause, you have an awful lot on your plates (plural!) right now. It's a time for more support and care, not less.
Are you a caregiver and struggling to balance helping others and getting yourself through menopause in one piece? Join the conversation and share ideas with other women who are walking the same path: join our community forums.
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