Being the primary caregiver of an aging parent is certainly rewarding, but can also at times be quite stressful. The holiday season can make things even harder on you. It’s supposed to be a joyous and celebratory time of year, but you simply have too much to do. You have your ongoing caregiving duties now coupled with holiday shopping, family gatherings, cooking and, of course, making sure the loved one you’re caring for also has a wonderful holiday.
The compounding of all these responsibilities can lead to high levels of holiday stress and can even leave you feeling overwhelmed. If you’re getting pushed to the limits of your time and to-do list, you may begin feeling guilty that you’re not giving your loved one the happy holiday season you want to help provide for them.
But there are steps you can take to cope with and even overcome your stress during this difficult time of year. Here are some tips for managing holiday stress.
Simplify holiday activities
This starts by letting go of an “all or nothing” mindset. Easing holiday stress means accepting that it’s OK to do less. You might want to set up all the holiday decorations everybody loves, but this year you can allow yourself to put out just the most meaningful ones, maybe just the tree. You can skip the exterior lights this year, or pay someone to hang them for you. If you send holiday cards, you can give yourself permission to keep the list to a few very important people in your life.
You and your loved one may find meaning in attending religious services during the holidays. But if making your way to all of them will be too much this year, pick just the most meaningful services to attend. Many religious and spiritual centers offer online connections so their services can be enjoyed from home. That’s an easy and safe alternative.
Don’t Cook So Much
Cut down your traditional menu. Pick just two favorite side dishes. Make one dessert. You could buy prepared meals from the grocery store, or order from restaurants. Ask if other family members can host the festivities. You don’t have to bake cookies for everyone. You don’t have to contribute to the potluck this year. Everyone will understand, especially if you let them know you’re taking a simplified approach this year to manage your holiday stress.
Don’t Spend So Much
If your holiday stress includes financial concerns, cut back on presents. Make a list and pare it down. Simple, modest gifts are just as thoughtful. Also, many online shopping sites offer gift wrapping services and shipping straight to the recipient. Take advantage of every retail convenience there is. You could focus on gifts only for the children in your life this year. And even for them, gift cards in modest amounts are fun to receive, and they’ll know you’re thinking of them.
Start New Traditions
Change can be difficult for anyone. Your loved one may find there are limitations to what they can experience. If they’re less capable than in years past, lift their spirits and ease your stress by involving them in ways they can still enjoy. Watch a lighting ceremony on television. Drive around a lighting display. If parties are difficult to navigate, ask someone to arrange a video chat. It could possibly even be left on so everyone can enjoy this new version of the party for more than just a few minutes.
Keep a Positive Attitude
Don’t focus on what you’re not doing. Focus on what matters. If you can allow yourself to do a little less, you’ll find you have a little more time – time for your loved ones, time for yourself. Remind yourself why this is the season of joy. Enjoying the season and spending time with family members and friends will fill your heart and give special meaning to what could otherwise be a difficult time.
If you can maintain a positive attitude, you’ll also be better able to help the loved one you’re caring for. The holidays can be an emotional time for older adults who may find themselves focusing on the past, or people who are no longer with us. If you’re in a peaceful and grateful state of mind, you can spread that holiday cheer to them and give them a happier holiday, too.
This is something family caregivers should do year-round, and it’s especially important during the holidays. Fall back on your support group. Arrange for respite care for your loved one. Schedule some time for yourself during the season to rest and recover. Senior living communities often offer short-term respite stays for older adults who need care while their family caregivers take some much-needed time to focus on other aspects of their lives.
Taking a break from holiday stress isn’t selfish. It’s necessary. You’ll be rejuvenated, and you’ll be a better caregiver in the long run. This is never more true than during the holidays.
You Hold the Secret to a Happy Holiday
You already know that caregiver stress is real. Holiday stress can compound it unless you go easy on yourself. Set realistic expectations. The general mindset that will help you deal with holiday stress is to accept imperfection. There’s no such thing as a perfect person. Do what you can to help everyone enjoy the holiday, including and especially yourself. If you can choose to lessen your burden through the season, you and your loved one can have the happy holiday you both deserve.