11 ways to manage caregiving stress during the holidays

Nicole M. Clagett Image
Friday, December 13, 2019

As a caregiver, you have to manage your regular jam-packed schedule, but you also have to live a double life as a super-hero caregiver and a magical spouse, parent, employee, and even friend. Somehow you have to buy the "perfect gifts" for your favorite people, attend parties, and deal with difficult family members you have managed to escape from seeing over the past 11 months.

According to a study published by the American Psychological Association "...the holidays can be a hectic time, where shopping, cooking, and party planning get added to the list of things to do. It is during these times that many people experience an increase in stress that can detract from the celebrations and downtime that they seek." (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Holiday Stress 12/ 2006)

Here are 11 tips that can help you manage your holiday stress and even enjoy some moments with the one who you are caring for:

1. Let Long-Held Traditions Go-well maybe not all of them but if it is just too much to get out the fine china, polish the silver, and cook 10 side dishes all while getting your loved one up and dressed for the meal, it is time to rethink and focus on 1, 2 or 3 traditions that mean the most to you and your family. In doing so you will make it a time for bonding where YOU actually get to participate in the memories and even make some new ones with your loved one. Maybe this year festive paper plates and paper napkins are ok.

2. To Grandmother's House We Go - Take a moment to think about the comfort of your loved one. Will it take a taxing effort to get them out of the house to celebrate the holiday? Do they get overwhelmed and overstimulated with lots of people in the house with them? Create your holiday around the person if possible to decrease stress.

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3. Control What You Can Control - Know that you're not responsible for your care receiver's mood. You can only do so much and if your efforts appear to be unappreciated it's NOT because you didn't try hard enough or who you failed. 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 oftentimes resulting in a more subdued and even a grouchy mood.

4. Get HELP! - Talk with 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. Caregiving is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It is so easy always to so say "no" to help from others but remember after a while people will stop asking to help if they continually get rejected.

5. Encourage Participation - It's hard for your loved one who may have been the matriarch or patriarch of the family to suddenly be in a much more dependent role with little control. Imagine if you suddenly could not drive, use the restroom independently, or even simply make coffee every day. It might sound fun to have others do for you especially if you are feeling burned out in your caregiving role. Don't we all like to be pampered on a vacation? However, we all also like coming home to our regular old boring routines just as much. Nothing is better than brewing that cup of coffee just the way we like it every morning. The person you are caring for may never have that sense of normal again. Try to celebrate the process not the end product. If Mom is known by the family for her outstanding stuffing but she can't do it alone anymore, adapt the recipe to her ability level and help boost her confidence so she feels like she is still contributing.

6. Reminisce Together - Some of the best holiday memories include sharing stories of holidays that have passed. Remember the time the turkey came out of the oven still frozen or when Uncle Tom's toupee fell into the cherry pie? The holidays are actually a great time for your loved one to share their stories. Better yet, take out your smart phone and audio record them as they are being retold. Legacy recording will be a gift you and your family will treasure forever!

7. Prioritize/Self-Care - Prioritizing involves setting limits by communicating with your family and friends that you intend to reduce your stress this holiday season by opting to say "no" to certain things. If you make your stress level known then you will not fall victim of alienating others by not meeting their expectations. Communication is key. In fact, most of the problems that we have as human-beings are all because of communication glitches.

8. Prepare others - It may have been some time since your family members and friends have seen your loved one. Not everyone is comfortable with medical equipment, chronic illnesses and cognitive decline. Prepare your family and friends by communicating to them prior to their visit about what to expect when they see your loved one this season. Communicating the changes may feel like an arduous task but this technological age we live in makes mass communication swift through a simple email.

9. Put on Your Armor - It's all too common that well intentioned family members swoop into town full of energy and opinions. Your sister who you may not have seen for a few months may come in and tell you there is an easier way to transport your mom, or lift your dad, or comment mom is losing weight... is she eating enough? These comments are often well intentioned but can make you feel resentful, hurt, and angry. Take a moment to breathe. This is another reason why pre-visit communication is key so that they all understand where you are as a caregiver and what is going on with your loved one.

10. Connect - Remember to stay connected to supports, even those that are professional. Most caregivers feel very isolated in their journeys. It really feels like you are the only one going through this at times. Please know that you are not alone and there are many resources available in the community that will put their arms around you. A survey of adult North Carolinians found that one in four persons report providing regular care for someone age 60 or older. Almost half are caring for someone with dementia, according to the 2004 AARP study, "Caregivers in the Workplace." There are caregiving networks and support groups which are often the lifeline to family caregivers. ABC11 recognizes this and has created a Facbook group. We invite you to join our online community of caregivers.

11. Perfection Detection- Many caregivers tend inherently be perfectionists, always wanting to give 110 percent of themselves in all that they do. No one is perfect, no family is perfect. Be realistic about your situation and take notice that you do not have to present your home or family as being perfect to anyone. Simplify your expectations in order to avoid feelings of not measuring up to standards you have previously set for yourself.

It is important to accept that you don't have to be jolly 100 percent of the time just because it's the holiday season. Be kind to yourself. Let the guilt go. You're a human being raise by other human beings, not a human raised by elves. Though there have been sightings of some pretty creative elves on social media these days. Regarding social media, remember folks usually only show their shiny happiest stories and moments on these platforms. Imagine what it took to get all 12 children to sit perfectly still all looking at the camera cheerfully. Watching everyone's social media feeds around the holidays can make you feel like you don't measure up. If you need to take a social media holiday for a few days around your celebration, you can always scroll back to the celebrations when you have some distance from the celebratory day.

Stress swallows each and every one of us up this time of year with caregiver "hats" on or not, and it's OK to occasionally be "grinchy" about the ridiculous pressure the holiday season puts on us. There are no perfect families, and there are no perfect holidays. The nice part about our memories is that as the years go by we subconsciously edit out the "bad parts" and become more nostalgic about the good experiences. Try to live in the moment, make more happy memories. Erma Bombeck told us we must find "bless in the mess." Cheers to you and Happy Holidays!