Holidays bring added commitments, obligations, increased demand on finances, increased visits with family/friends, and other additional stressors which can cause caregivers to experience feelings of being overwhelmed and burnt out. Here are 10 tips to help you not only survive, but thrive this holiday season, as a means to minimize the added stress of the holiday season.
Plan – Individuals who experience the most difficulty with the holiday season are those who have given little though to the challenges they will encounter. Consider yours and others expectations of you, both socially and emotionally. Discuss holiday celebration plans with relatives and loved ones in advance. Plan to maintain a regular routine as much as possible while trying to provide an enjoyable, meaningful, and calm holiday event. If possible, explore celebrating the holidays earlier in the day, rather than a late dinner, as this allows for “down time” at the end of an evening. Planning can avoid holiday stressors. Allow yourself extra time to be ahead of schedule in terms of gift shopping, meal prepping, and event planning. Start early.
- Prioritize/Self-Care – As a caregiver, you should keep in mind that the holidays are an opportunity to spend time with your loved ones. Concentrate on enjoying your time with your loved ones. Prioritizing involves setting limits by communicating with your family and friends that you intend to reduce your stress this holiday season by opting to say “no” to certain things. It could be as simple as not taking the time to send out family holiday cards or to skip cooking for the family one night a week and go out to dinner instead. As a caregiver, maintaining a positive mental attitude will go a long way in terms of self-care. Lean on family, friends, and professional supports as a means to reduce stress by asking for help when you need it. Arrange for respite care for your loved one when you are feeling burnt out as a caregiver. It is also important to build a “toolbox” that pertains to managing your own self-care and coping skills. Coping skills can be anything from deep breathing exercises, stopping to smell a scent that makes you smile, listening to music, spending time with others outside of your caregiving role, or even just taking a walk. Seek counseling if you feel you require additional therapeutic interventions as well.
- Simplify – Holidays can cause feelings of being overwhelmed with the demands of family traditions. A caregiver should simplify things by setting limits for the care recipient. Preparing the care recipient for the family gathering allows both of you to enjoy the holiday traditions together. Talk with the care recipient about and show photos of family members and friends who will be visiting in order to reduce their feelings of anxiety, stress, and being overwhelmed. Having a “quiet” room for the care recipient is helpful in the event that the celebration gets to be overwhelming for the care recipient. Playing familiar music and serving favorite family traditional foods will help ease the stress on the care recipient. Scheduling naps for yourself and the care recipient can be beneficial for rejuvenation.
- Prepare – Prepare family and friends by communicating with them about your role of a caregiver and what that entails, as well as what is to be expected in terms of the care recipient’s needs. Lean on others for additional support. Involve everyone when selecting activities including the care recipient. Communicate with success by being calm and supportive to each other.
- Adapt Gift-Giving – Encourage family and friends who want to give gifts to purchase something useful for both the caregiver and the care recipient. Ideas such as comfortable easy to remove clothing, favorite music cd, magazines, photo albums, or videos of family members. Warn people about unsafe gifts such as power tools, pets, challenging board games, etc. Allow the care recipient to participate in gift-giving. For example, someone who enjoyed cooking may utilize this strength by baking cookies and packaging them for others. Remember not to neglect your own needs during the gift giving process. If asked what you would like for a gift, remember to go back to simplifying things. You might consider a gift card to a carry-out restaurant to alleviate having to cook one night.
- Connect – Remember to stay connected to supports whether they are formal professional supports who can provide respite care for your loved one, or whether it be a family or a friend who may be able to do some shopping for you, get creative and utilize your support system to your advantage.
- Give Yourself Permission to Say No – You are not obligated to attend every social holiday gathering nor host events in your home during the holiday season. Remember that each time you agree to host or attend a holiday party; you have to put something else on the back burner. For example, relaxation time for yourself, time to prepare for the upcoming holiday, and time to spend with loved ones. Committing to too much will increase stress levels and get you off track.
- Manageable – Remind yourself to keep your holiday parties manageable. For instance, keep the number of guests to a manageable amount of people. Often times, noise and hectic activity can be difficult for a care recipient who may be frail or confused. Schedule a time for other family/friends to visit before or after your traditional holiday celebrations. A suggestion of a pot luck dinner could be helpful for the caregiver, so that you do not have to cook and prepare a whole meal by yourself. Use paper plates and plastic utensils so that you do not have a lot of dishes to do. This makes your time more manageable and again coincides with keeping things simple.
- Realistic – Try not to be a perfectionist, as there is no such thing as perfection. Forego having to be sure that all of your Christmas decorations are put up in the exact spot or that you are trying to portray the perfect family in Christmas cards. No one is perfect, no family is perfect. Be realistic about your situation and take notice that you do not have to present your home or family as being perfect to anyone. Love and accept yourself and others for who they are. Simplify your expectations in order to avoid feelings of not measuring up to standards you have previously set for yourself.
- Accept – Admitting that your loved one is in need of continued care is often difficult. As a caregiver, you should make adjustments for your loved ones needs. For example, a care recipient may have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, who used to be able to complete simple tasks independently such as placing a drinking glass on a TV tray. The confused care recipient then attempt to balance the TV tray on his/her lap and spills the tray of food and drink on the floor. Accepting the fact that your loved one would never do such a balancing act if they were not confused is par for the course. Pretending that your loved ones condition has not changed is not doing anyone any favors. Accept your loved ones impairments and help support them with their needs. Acceptance will allow the caregiver to also face reality from a social-emotional perspective.
(Alzheimers Association, 2015)