The holidays are upon us, and it’s natural to feel a bit overwhelmed. There’s always so much to do and little time to do it. But if you are also the caregiver for a frail or elderly loved one, you may be experiencing holiday stress on another level. Don’t despair! There is help and hope for taking the stress out of your family festivities this year.
During the holidays, most caregivers are trying to balance family traditions with the reality of changing family dynamics. We want to shop and bake and decorate, but are spending much of our time traveling to doctor’s appointments and strategizing family events to keep our loved ones calm and comfortable in the face of chaotic and busy gatherings. We want to include our loved ones as much as possible, but we sometimes struggle to meet everyone’s needs.
This year, take some of the pressure off. Here are 12 tips that can help you – and everyone around you – relax and enjoy the holidays.
- Don’t try to make everyone happy – Don’t pressure yourself into making the holidays “happen” for everyone. You may feel the need to maintain certain traditions or to recreate “perfect” holidays from seasons past. But focus instead on the setting realistic expectations, staying flexible and enjoying the people gathered.
- Be kind to yourself – It’s easy to lose sight of yourself amidst holiday stress, but maintaining your emotional balance and resisting the urge to “overdue” can go a long way to bringing calm. Cheryl Smith reminds us via caregiver.com that “Holidays notoriously bring emotions to the surface. They hold intense memories for your loved ones, and some may not be pleasant. You may find that tears fall for no apparent reason, or that a frail elderly parent suddenly seems gruff or annoyed just when you think everything is fine.” Often, emotions strike when we least expect them, and as caregivers we need to allow ourselves those moments while still avoiding emotional spills. Take a little time for yourself everyday, to celebrate what you have accomplished and to just breathe!
- Slow Down. Think about all the things you can let go undone instead of all the things you need to do. Challenge yourself to match the tempo of your elderly relatives or friends, and see if that helps you enjoy the season more.
- Think Safety. Most accidents happen at home in unsupervised situations. This season avoid mishaps by planning ahead – declutter as much as possible, removing things that older adults or small children can stumble over; keep decorations simple and out of reach when possible; eliminate the need for extra extension cords on the floor; replace candles with centerpieces of fruit or flowers; keep open bowls of snacks and candies to a minimum to prevent sugar highs and lows; frequently shovel and salt stairs, walkways and driveways; have nightlights and flashlights ready for overnight guests; and enlist the help of siblings, older children or a spouse, to play games, work puzzles or watch movies with (Great) Grandma and (Great) Grandpa while you change beds, do laundry, and cook.
- Ask for help. Why is it always so hard for us to ask for help? Especially of those who are sincerely willing to pitch in. Meal preparation, last minute holiday errands and “oops, I just need another dozen eggs” shopping can throw even the most carefully crafted plans into a tailspin. Ask friends or family to contribute food, help while you shop, or to pick things up for you when they are out, but be as specific as possible – they will appreciate that and you will too! You could also enlist the services of a home-help organization to do some of the household chores while you go grocery shopping or simply take a walk or a nap.
- Talk to your loved ones about holiday plans. For your care recipient – outline the events for them, ask them what they would like to do and what is most important to them. Then try to honor their requests, if only in some small way. For other friends and family members – educate them ahead of gatherings, explain the care recipient’s health condition and give them tools for how to communicate effectively. This will help everyone feel more comfortable.
- Try to schedule routines and rest times as usual. This may be tough during the holidays but it creates focus and security for the care recipient.
- Preparation is key. Make weekly/daily to-do lists and prioritize what needs to happen, and what can wait (or be skipped altogether). Consider setting aside dedicated days for certain tasks like giftwrapping or baking, particularly if you can arrange caregiving help even for a few hours on those days. Having most tasks outlined on your to-do list will make it easier to focus on what needs your attention. And the list will still be there waiting for you after you’ve navigated those unforeseen, but sure-to-happen hiccups in your day.
- Weigh the pros and cons of having company vs. traveling to visit family. For example, do you feel like the house needs to look a certain way? Are there concerns about visiting a non-accessible house?
- Be aware of environments or situations that cause stress for your loved one and take steps to manage them. Noise, extra activity or difficulty remembering people’s names at gatherings can be stressful for people with cognitive impairments such as dementia.
- Be flexible. Did I mention that already? Yes, be flexible. You may need to change some plans or make compromises, like turning one large family dinner into a few smaller visits. Don’t try to predict or control how everything will unfold and ask yourself, will this really matter in 1 year, 5 years, tomorrow?
- Choose JOY! Even if emotions and stress run high, vow to stay in the moment and to remember and celebrate the true meaning of the holiday season – love, home and spending time together with the people we care about most. Sing, smile, laugh and enjoy your time with family and friends.
How do you deal with holiday stress? Share your caregiving success stories with us!