For some family caregivers, the holidays can be a joyful time when spirits are lighter. But for others, the holidays also bring added stress. It’s OK to give yourself a bit of a break this year. Here are some tips to help you make it through the holiday season with more joy and less stress.
Focus on JOY
As much as we’d like to create the perfect holiday experience, remember that perfection is not the goal of the holidays — meaning and joy are. There are many factors we can’t control when it comes to our loved ones’ health and abilities, so adjust your view of a successful holiday. Talk about prioritizing the holiday activities that hold the deepest meaning. Focus on what feels necessary to produce a holiday feeling and create good memories.
Keep it Simple
The holidays don’t have to be all or nothing. If you can’t put out all of your decorations, choose a few items that are most significant. You might ask a friend to decorate, or choose just a select few activities that means the most. If sending greeting cards is too time-consuming, try sending e-greetings. Many family caregivers also adjust the location of celebrations or postpone holiday travel to accommodate loved ones in their care.
Try Something NEW
Instead of focusing on losses and what you and/or your loved ones aren’t able to do this year, try doing something new. If your care recipient has trouble getting around, drive through a holiday light display or watch a holiday concert on TV. If you can’t make it to a holiday gathering, have a video chat. Are your loved ones unable to participate in decorating this year? Invite a friend over to help, with your loved ones nearby to watch and cheer you on.
Efficient Gift Giving
Gift-giving is a part of many traditions, but it can be costly and time-consuming. Try shopping online (many online stores will also gift-wrap). You might ask a friend or relative to do your shopping and wrapping for you. You can always fall back on gift cards, too. Family caregivers are often financially stressed, so it might be necessary to lower your gift-giving budget this year and scale back the number of presents. Try giving the gift of time or attention, like scheduling outings or helping with a project. Meaningful gifts are just a precious, like a letter that can be enjoyed throughout the year.
Get Your Mind Right
Negative thinking actually activates your body’s stress response, so steer your mind to the positives when you start down that slippery slope. Try to stay mindful, concentrating on the present moment. Think about what you can accomplish instead of what isn’t getting done; celebrate what your loved ones can do, rather than dwelling on what they can no longer participate in; revel in the holiday joys you experience instead of focusing on those you bypass; appreciate the help you are receiving rather than resenting those who aren’t supportive.
Connect with Other Caregivers
Other caregivers are feeling many of the same emotions you are, even when others don’t understand. Connect to share your feelings and get tips for holiday survival. If it’s difficult to get to a caregiver support group due to holiday business or weather, try online message boards or social media groups.
Ask for Help
Even if you don’t normally do so, the holidays are a great time to get some extra help — even a few hours can be a huge relief. Family and friends can help with holiday preparations. Ask family and friends to help with direct care for your loved ones, or try community resources like adult day care centers, in-home or facility-based respite care, or paid home health aides/caregivers.
Remember, you’ll be happier if you can go with the flow and expect that there will be some delays, a crisis or two and maybe some disappointments. Our family spent Christmas in the hospital with my dad one year when he was sick. We made the most of it with decorations and music and festive hats and antlers. The hospital prepared a darn good holiday meal for us, too. The bottom line is that this time is precious. Savor the moments with your loved ones and make good memories you can cherish forever.