10 Things Caregivers Can Do During the Holidays
The holiday season can cause caregivers additional stress as they try to juggle their normal caregiving activities, personal lives, and holiday traditions. Based on recommendations from AARP, we have put together 10 things caregivers can do during the holidays to reduce stress and the mental load.
Before we start reviewing the 10 things you can do to manage caregiving and the holidays, we must talk about resetting expectations. It is okay to change, stop, or start new things. Caregiving has changed many if not all, aspects of your life. While traditions might have significant meaning, this may need to be a year without some traditions or with smaller traditions. Readjusting your expectations before the holidays will make these next 10 items easier to accomplish.
1. Focus on What is Most Meaningful
Remember that perfection is not the goal of the holidays. This a time to focus on meaningful and joyful traditions and activities. We suggest to prioritize the activities that hold the deepest meaning for you and your family. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- What creates the best memories?
- What do you have the capacity to handle?
- Can you break down a favorite activity into several steps on different days instead of all in one day?
2. Simplify Your Holiday Activities
Holiday traditions do not have to be an all-or-nothing! For example, if you typically decorate a Christmas tree, you may decide to put out the ornaments that mean the most instead of decorating the full tree. If attending family events feels like too much, choose the one that means the most to you. Another suggestion is to ask for the location of the event to be at your house or somewhere where your loved one can be comfortable.
3. Start New traditions
Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on something new that you could start doing. Traditions have to start somewhere! If you always decorate the tree, ask your friends or family to come over and help so the tree gets decorated and your loved one can see their friends or family.
Another example is to stream or borrow a holiday movie instead of going out to see one. If your loved one can’t leave the house, ask friends to take photos or videos of holiday lights and send them to you to watch with your loved one.
4. Adjust Meals
You don’t have to cancel the meal, but simplifying the menu can reduce shopping, prep, and cooking time. You could also split up the grocery shopping and meal prep among your circle of support by hosting a potluck meal. If cooking is not an option, can the family come together to purchase catering or family-style meals prepared by a local grocery store or restaurant?
You could also start a new food tradition! If your loved one can only have liquids, challenge the family to make holiday smoothies to try together.
5. Approach Gift-Giving More Efficiently
Shopping online can reduce the need to run errands to many different stores. If you do need to go to physical stores, consider asking a friend or family member to shop for you or sit with your loved one as you shop. Also, never underestimate the ease of gift cards!
Other gifting ideas:
- Give the gift of time or attention or help with a project in the spring
- Share a gratitude list for the past year
- Exchange one name instead of buying for the whole family
6. Anticipate Holiday Hot Buttons
Limit your exposure to some of the following if you can:
- Negative family or friends
- Issues that are triggers for you
- Certain places or conversations that might be a trigger for you
If you cannot limit your exposure, prepare yourself by trying short visit times with family/friends, limiting who is able to visit during the holidays, and not owning what people say to you.
For more information on how to prepare yourself, see number 7.
7. Mind Your Mindset
Negative thinking will actually raise your stress level! So try to stay in the moment and not think about the past or future. Give yourself grace and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can in this exact moment.
The holidays are for you and your loved one, so it is okay to do what makes you happy and limit interactions this season. If you feel emotions during the holidays, recognize them and address them. Stuffing down your emotions will lead to a blow-up, usually at a time when you don’t want to express them.
8. Keep Self-Care at the Top of the List
Self-care is often put at the bottom of a caregiver’s list because they are prioritizing the person they’re caring for. Here are simple self-care ideas to get started:
- Get as much sleep as you can
- Walk with those you love
- Be aware of unhealthy coping
- Relax with breathing and meditation
- Listen to music or watch your favorite movies
- Use aromatherapy to brighten your mood
Remember, it is okay to say no. You are not a bad person for stepping back from holiday routines to care for yourself.
9. Connect with Other Caregivers
Other caregivers understand what you are going through. Ask others how they are managing the holiday season and learn from their experiences.
If you can’t leave the house, look for caregiver support groups on social media or online. Journaling is another great option to get your feelings out, and you can share your thoughts with others at a later time.
10. Ask for Help
It can be hard to ask for help, but oftentimes, people do not know how to best help you. We suggest making a list of items individuals can do for you instead of giving you gifts.
- Ask for someone to watch your loved one so you can run errands
- Ask for someone to watch your loved one so you can get out of the house, go for coffee, drive through lights to get a break, etc.
Facing Difficult Conversations During the Holidays
Difficult conversations can be hard to start and often lead to individuals feeling defensive or shameful.
“I” statements are the first step to preparing to talk with someone. What are “I” statements? “I” statements start or keep a conversation on track, produce a good way to express our feelings, and start with the word “I” (I feel, I need, I believe).
The opposite of “I” statements are “You” statements. “You” statements irritate the other person, get the conversation off track, and focus on hurt feelings and not what needs to be said. A hidden “You” statement can begin with “I” but has a blaming tone.
- EX: “I feel you don’t understand.” versus “I don’t feel understood.”
Let’s Practice “I” Statements
“You never help with Thanksgiving dinner.” vs “I need help this year with Thanksgiving dinner.”
With the “I” statement, you could then turn this into a conversation on either scaling the meal back or making one item while the others take the remaining items.
“I feel overwhelmed when you stop by unannounced.” vs “I believe we can work out a visit schedule that works for us both.”
The “I” statement presents a solution that is beneficial for both parties.
Learn more about caregiving during the holidays with AARP’s stress tips list.
Thank you to Tracey Willingham, Vice President of Client Programs, and Margaritta Jackson, Director of Programs, for creating this presentation on 10 things caregivers can do during the holidays. If you would like to learn more about our Caregiving Class opportunities, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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