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Coping with Caregiver Stress During the Holidays

December 12, 2015

Caregivers are especially vulnerable to stress during the holidays.

Most of us try to do it all during this time of year, but when you’re taking care of a loved one the expectations of the holiday season coupled with the responsibilities of caregiving can be overwhelming.

But there are ways to cope and better manage the holidays, so that you and your loved ones can enjoy it. Here are a few ways to do it:

Plan in Advance

From decorating to buying gifts, there’s a lot on our holiday to-do list. You can ease the burden with careful planning.

Online shopping is great if you don’t have time to go from store to store. Though it may be a no-no according to Emily Post etiquette, it’s perfectly fine to buy the same gift for different people on your list. For example, getting the same toys for your best friend’s children and for the toy drive at your church.

When it comes to holiday preparations, think about what is a necessity and what isn’t. Do you need to have all the holiday lights and lawn decorations this year or can you get by with a Christmas tree, a menorah or simply a festive table? Your loved one also may want to be involved in holiday preparations. Think about what he or she is capable of doing and enlist their help. They may be able to help you decorate the tree or the holiday table or help you prepare the holiday meal. Involve them as much as you can to make them feel like a part of the holiday.

Don’t Overschedule

During the holidays, we often feel an obligation to say yes to every invite. However, when you’re caring for a loved one it’s critical to manage your time wisely.

Make sure social events aren’t scheduled too close together. Spending your entire weekend at holiday gatherings may be too much for you and your loved one. If possible, stick to events for family and close friends and make sure to schedule outings earlier in the day. A loved one who is battling a serious illness may get more agitated as the day continues, so make an effort to attend events that allow you and your loved one to rest in the evening.

You also may choose to welcome guests in your home. If so, it’s important that you let your guests know what to expect in regards to your loved one’s condition. This way, they aren’t shocked if they haven’t seen the person in a while. Your loved one also may need some quiet time and space. With tons of events and visitors, the holidays can be chaotic. Make sure you maintain a routine for your loved one and carve out time for your family to relax together.

Prepare for Travel

If you are traveling during the holidays, planning in advance will help relieve some of the stress. Begin packing as soon as you can and check with your loved one’s doctors to make sure it is ok for the person to travel. You also should prepare everything your loved one needs, including medications and items that give them comfort. Arrange special travel services — like a wheelchair at airport or special seating near a restroom — ahead of time. Pack any important documentation or identification in your carry-on bag and make sure your loved one has emergency contact information via an ID bracelet or wearable GPS device in case you should get separated from them or if they should wander off. This is particularly important for seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s. If you plan to travel by car, your trip should includes breaks so that your loved one can get fresh air and some downtime.

Accept Help

For many of us, it’s often difficult to say yes to help. But during the holidays, you shouldn’t turn away help. If a friend or family member asks to help with holiday preparations or driving your loved one to and from the doctor, graciously accept the offer and say thank you. Every caregiver needs a break, and often those closest to us are the ones who give it.

Take Time for Yourself

Speaking of which, if you have time to do something for yourself, take the opportunity. Do something self-indulgent like get a massage or see a movie. Take a much-needed nap — or better yet — do absolutely nothing. You’ll feel recharged and more prepared to take on the holidays if you give yourself a break.

The holidays are hectic for all us, but caregivers especially need to take a pause. Caring for a loved one is a 24/7 job, and during the holidays the stress we feel often builds. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, look at your holiday to-do list and figure out what is important and what isn’t. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The holidays are all about giving, and most friends and family members may gladly give their time to help you with anything you need. All you have to do is ask.