10 Helpful Ways For Caregivers To Manage Holiday Stress

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A close-up of a senior woman sitting at home at Christmas time.
Halfpoint / Shutterstock

The added stress of the holidays can tip the scales toward burnout mode. Here’s your guide to being less bah humbug and more jolly this holiday season.

Focus on What You Can Control

Individuals that are experiencing great changes and loss in their lives can at times become even more acutely aware of their deficits around the holidays. You can only do so much, and your efforts may very well go unnoticed or be underappreciated. This doesn’t have anything to do with how hard you try. Don’t feel guilty—you can’t fail at things you have no control over. Instead of focusing on what isn’t getting done, focus instead on what you can accomplish.

Simplify

It’s easier said than done, but try not to overcommit. Meals require a lot of time, money, and coordination. That being said, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Instead of buying and cooking the whole meal and hosting it at your house, communicate how stressed you are to others. Say “no” to hosting this year, and instead, offer to bring a few family favorites to someone else’s house. If no one else offers to host, you can have the meal catered by a restaurant or grocery store, or just go out to eat.

If you can’t get out of hosting, determine the guest list size and number of activities you feel you can handle. Don’t get out the fine china and polish the silver. Festive paper plates and paper napkins make cleanup a breeze. Instead of going all out with decorations, display only the ones that are most meaningful.

Remember, the holidays aren’t about the food, presents, and decorations, they’re about spending time with the people you love.

Prioritize

Prioritize what needs to be addressed and let go of the distractions. Try deleting social media from your phone for a few days to focus your energies on what is most important to you and your loved one. What feels necessary to produce a holiday feeling and create good memories

Prioritize holiday activities that hold the deepest meaning. Develop a plan and make a list. If it still feels unmanageable, narrow your focus, pace yourself, and set limits. Communication is key. Let family and friends that you intend to reduce your stress this holiday season by opting out of certain things, like hosting or flying cross-country to Aunt Doris’ house. By making your stress level known, you set realistic expectations for others so they won’t get disappointed.

Schedule Some Time Off

There’s only so many hours in a day. With so much to get done around the holidays, it’s a great time to give yourself the gift of time. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Avoid burnout by talking to family and friends in advance to let them know you need them to help so you can get a few hours or days of much-needed rest. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help. Have visiting family take charge of your care receiver for a day. If friends offer to help, accept it.

No takers? Consider taking advantage of community resources like adult daycare centers, in-home or facility-based respite care, or paid home health aides/caregivers. You can always plan some fun holiday activities for them so you don’t feel so guilty about leaving. At the very least, get someone to clean the house or catch up on laundry or help with holiday preparations.

This way you can have time to not only check things off your list but perhaps even rest, unwind and relax. 

Give Yourself Care

Caregivers can often forget to take care of themselves. To avoid stress and burnout (year-round, not just during the holidays), it’s important to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Eat healthy meals, drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep, and exercise. Listen to holiday music, indulge in the Hallmark Movie channel, and treat yo’self to some pie. Recognize unhealthy coping skills like overeating or drinking too much. Spend time with friends. Slow down. Say “no” to things freely and graciously. Negative emotions like stress, depression, loneliness, and family tensions can rear their ugly heads during the holidays. Acknowledge those feelings, they just want to be felt. Practicing self-care will help you feel refreshed, with a more positive attitude to take on the holidays.

Connect with Other Caregivers

Caregiver support groups can be a lifeline. Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through will help you feel less alone. Share your feelings and get tips from people who have been there. You don’t even have to leave the house to join Facebook support groups.

Shop Online

Gift-giving can be costly and time-consuming, but you really don’t even have to get out to shop anymore. Nearly everything is available online, and many online stores will even wrap it for you. While they may be the “lazy” way out, gift cards (especially Amazon ones) rarely go unused. Photo gifts from ornaments to calendars feel personalized, and you don’t even have to put on pants to purchase. 

Prepare Others

If it’s been a while since the rest of the family has seen your charge, you might want to give them a heads up on what to expect. Pre-visit communication is key. Not everyone is comfortable with medical equipment, chronic illnesses, and cognitive decline. A simple email blast can put everyone on the same page as far as where you are as a caregiver and what is going on with your loved one.

Delegate

Sure, you need to delegate holiday tasks, but make sure to dole some out to your caregivee. They need to get in the holiday spirit, too! If they’re able to participate in preparations and activities, find ways for him or her to contribute. Perhaps they can lessen your workload by helping set the table, wrapping gifts, or hanging ornaments. This allows you to enjoy the festivities together!

Practice Gratitude

The holidays are a time to feel thankful. Make a list of what you’re grateful for. The sunrise, your pet, friends and family, good food, and the fact that your loved one is still with you. AARP suggests to “Stay focused on the positives: Think about what you can accomplish instead of what you can’t; celebrate what your loved ones can do, rather than mourning what they can no longer participate in; revel in the holiday joys you will experience instead of missing those you’ll bypass; appreciate the help you are receiving rather than resenting those who aren’t supportive.”