For some, the post-holiday blues are worse than for others.
In addition to the general stresses of finding the perfect gifts, struggling with holiday finances, cleaning the house for guests and family arguments, the holidays and the time after are especially difficult for those taking care of a loved one with a serious illness.
“Holidays are packed with emotions for most people, so when you add in the stresses of caregiving it can often be a tipping point,” said Jared Paventi, chief communications officer, Alzheimer's Association, Central New York Chapter. “All of a sudden, a houseful of people on Christmas day becomes an empty house again. It's like going from 60 to zero in a heartbeat. This is difficult for people who aren't caregiving, so you can imagine what a caregiver feels.”
According to the National Family Caregiver Association (NFCA), more than 65 million people provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year. These people spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one. About two-thirds of caregivers are women, many married with children and full-time jobs. Of those in need of care, 78 percent have no other resources to rely on but their families and loved ones.
And the life of a caregiver is a difficult one, said Frieda Weeks, founder of Liverpool-based Hope for Heather, which seeks to raise awareness of ovarian cancer and support women undergoing treatment and their families.
“The caregiver is the one who gets ‘slammed,’” Weeks said. “For example, the husband of a breast or ovarian cancer patient suddenly becomes in charge of everything. He has to hold down his job, take care of his children and their activities, clean and cook. He has to take his wife to appointments and treatments. Then you have to add the unspoken stress that both husband and wife are going through, wondering, what will be the outcome of this illness? Will she survive? How will he handle her emotional needs like losing her hair, coping with fear of her mortality, and the emotions brought on by everything else? Who will help him? A serious illness can rip a family apart from stress and lead to drug addiction, alcoholism and depression.”