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The holidays can be challenging, let’s face it; and as a parent or caregiver supporting a loved one who is struggling, it’s easy to go into “care-taker mode” and forget about ourselves.

We asked a couple of our family peer supporters on the Foundry Virtual services team the ways they recommend supporting youth, while ensuring that you – as a caregiver – can support yourself during this potentially difficult season.

As two parents of youth with mental health challenges, we know how easy it is to forget either to care for ourselves, or feel undeserving of taking time away from supporting a loved one.  Many days we were consumed and lost with our kids’ own emotional struggles. Our time and energy was spent finding resources and support to help them. Looking back, we can see that our physical, mental and emotional energy was being zapped, forcing us to operate in burn-out mode just to survive (which of course, is in and of itself super unhealthy), and leading to further mental health struggles of our own as caregivers.

We collaborated to share some tips we adopted for our own self care, with the hope that this can give others ideas too:

1. Managing bereavement/grief: Get any kind of support when mourning a loved one(s): Whether a loved one has passed, or you are no longer in contact with others, the holidays can be a time where memories of broken/ended relationships can be heightened.

  • Seek individual support for yourself. Did you know that caregivers can connect with Foundry Virtual’s family peer supporters Monday through Friday? This is a safe and confidential space for you to seek support from other parents who have been through similar struggles, and to find resources for yourself and your family during this time. 
  •  Spend time with people you feel emotionally safe around. There are times where some people in your life make you feel triggered. This may not be the time to be with them. It’s okay to take a break from them.
  • Video chat and have a meal, tea, drink, or snack together by intentionally scheduling a time. Perhaps go for a walk out in nature. Your child can also connect online with others, too

2. Exercise daily & together – YOU and your youth

Whatever it may look like for you, moving your body in any way is good for you and your family’s mental well being!  Caring for a loved one can take a toll on your overall health, so being intentional with this will be so helpful in making you feel more in balance, burn excess energy and clear your mind by producing a healthy dose of endorphins!

Here are some ideas we suggest:

  •  A quick, brisk, 10-minute walk. Bundle up, plug in your headphones, and go on your way. Perhaps even swing your arms or walk around the block three times.
  • At-home exercise videos: In your home, check out Youtube and search for anywhere from 10 min high/low impact intensity interval training videos to hour long yoga classes.
  • Quick on-the-spot exercise: Squats, high/low impact jumping jacks, leg lunges, stretches, etc. A little “change of pace” can go a long way.
  • Get outside for fresh air: Here is a great way to get creative and have fun! Throwing a football, snowshoeing, walking, playing with your pet, going on nature walks to local parks or hiking in beautiful BC mountains are all ideas you may consider; our province offers a plethora of outdoor activities for anyone and everyone.

3. Sleep Hygiene

Just like brushing your teeth daily for healthy oral hygiene, the same should be applied for your sleep. Good sleep routines improve your mood and energy, and help you better care for yourself and loved ones.

  • Keep a consistent sleep routine. This may look like going to bed at a specific time each night and getting up generally around the same time each day.
  • Turn off/stop screen time at least 90 minutes before bedtime (if 90 min is too hard for now, start with 15 minutes and work your way up). Too much time on screens/social media sites can increase anxiety, feelings of comparison, and lower your mood.  We know this is a difficult one, especially as we are so tethered to our devices and screens… but this is a healthy approach for better quality of well-being.
  •  See our Sleep Section for more sleep myths and tips on how to get a better sleep.

4. Create new traditions.

Due to COVID-19, this year will be different for all of us. With limited gatherings/ reduced social restrictions, you may find yourself feeling a sense of grief or loss. This is normal, and really quite common given the state of the world. Allow yourself to feel this, while trying to cultivate grace and self compassion during this time. This also can be an opportunity for new beginnings. Maybe your family or friend group would enjoy sharing a virtual meal together over FaceTime or zoom call.

We encourage you to give your youth a chance to contribute! This can help them feel a sense of pride or purpose in contributing or serve as a distraction in times of struggle. Think about questions like ‘what meal would they enjoy preparing with you?’ or ‘What is their favourite music?’ Ask them to share with you while you cook! Gifts of attention and time with our families are gifts that keep on giving.

5. Call Foundry for peer support.

Yes, we are here to support you! Our Foundry Virtual service team works right through the holidays and are around Monday through Friday as an ear. We offer drop-in counselling and peer support for families and caregivers of young people. Having another caregiver listen and offer support can drastically help relieve tension and stress. Your mental health and self-care is the most valuable gift you can give to yourself and your family. (Note: we are not open on statutory holidays!) Please refer to foundrybc.ca/virtual to see hours of operation for in person centres.

6. Connect to and explore your religious/cultural beliefs.

As the holidays can be a challenging time for many, it may be an important time to connect to your spiritual or cultural practices, should you have them. If this is something that you have expressed curiosity about over the years, perhaps this is a good opportunity to explore this area. While this is not for everyone, it may be worth using this opportunity to connect to your cultural roots, or look at new aspects of life.

7. Make a wellness plan with someone you trust before the holidays arrive.

The holidays can also increase risks of family disagreements and sometimes increased substance use and mental health challenges. Perhaps a wellness plan would help support the safety of your household, should your loved one’s mental health deteriorate, or substance use increase. Be prepared if you need to leave to a safe place or need to call for help.

And remember… You don’t have to pretend you are merry and bright. Let your family express their disappointment about things being different this year. It’s healthy to share our feelings, and it provides an opportunity to model how we navigate disappointment and uncertain times. Remember you are not alone and there are people who care for you and will help you.  

Additional resources: There are some workplaces that offer an Employee Family Assistance Program (EFAP) – where an intake counsellor can match you with a trained counsellor specific to your needs.  Check with your employer or your partner/spouses’ employer to see if this program is available to you.

Find out more about Foundry.

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