For some family caregivers, the holidays can be a joyful time when spirits are lighter. It feels good to care for loved ones and enjoy being together, celebrating with family traditions. But for many the holidays also bring added stress. Caregivers are already busy, and there’s even more to do during the holidays. Something’s gotta give!
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.
1. Seek help
The holidays are a great time to get some extra help, even if you don’t normally do so. Just a few hours of assistance can be a huge relief. A concierge or personal assistant can complete items on your holiday to-do list or handle personal things like organizing mail or running errands. Hire someone to clean the house or catch up on laundry. It may be a good time to get respite — a break from caregiving. Try community and state resources like adult day care centers, in-home or facility-based respite care, or paid home health aides/caregivers to provide direct care for your loved ones.
2. Focus on what is most meaningful
As much as caregivers would like to create the perfect holiday experience, remember that perfection is not the goal. It’s really about meaning and joy. There are many factors that can’t be controlled when it comes to a loved ones’ health and abilities, so adjust your view of a “successful” holiday. Talk with your loved ones about what makes the holidays most meaningful for them and for you, and prioritize those holiday activities. Focus on the least amount of things needed to evoke a holiday feeling and create good memories. Your grandmother’s tablecloth, the family menorah, a poinsettia or some candles along with holiday music and movies may be enough.
3. Simplify your holiday activities
If going all out for the holidays will push you over the edge, remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you can’t put every single decoration, choose a few items that are most significant. You might ask a friend to decorate or pay someone to do so. (My helper, Debbie, a “concierge,” assisted me with holiday decorations many times while I was caregiving for my parents, and it was such a relief!) You can always rearrange decorations once someone else puts them out. If going to all religious services feels like too much, choose the one service that means the most to you. If sending greeting cards is too time-consuming, try sending e-greetings, or just send cards to a few key people this year. Many family caregivers also adjust the location of celebrations or postpone holiday travel to accommodate loved ones in their care.
4. Start new traditions
Instead of focusing on losses and what you and/or your loved ones aren’t able to do, try doing something new. If those you care for have 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. Start a home holiday movie night tradition, or watch old home movies and relish the memories. Are your loved ones unable to participate in decorating this year? Turn up the holiday music and invite a friend over to help and make it more festive. Your loved ones can be nearby to watch and cheer you on or be surprised with the results.