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Alleviating Holiday Stress for Family Caregivers

Family and friends love to gather for the holidays, but for families who care for an ill or aging loved one, the holidays can bring on extra stress. If just the idea of getting out of the house or inviting guests into your home elicits sweaty palms and sleepless nights, read on for some holiday breathe-deep help.

1. Keep everything simple.

Sure, hosting Thanksgiving or Christmas or helping at the annual holiday bizarre may be a tradition, but caring for a loved one may require more energy and time than in the past. Instead of hosting a large gathering, consider reducing your party list to include only an inner circle of family and friends. Opt for hosting a cozy evening dessert, or just go out for dessert with those you hold dear. Rather than decorating your home to perfection, simply display a few of your most treasured holiday decorations. You also could enlist a friend to decorate for you or hire someone who could use the extra cash for the holiday season.

2. Embrace the most meaningful traditions.

Talk with your loved one about the holiday traditions he or she enjoys most. What does your senior cherish about the holidays? Modify activities around those traditions, or start a new round of traditions. If attending religious services is important, look for a less-crowded service time, schedule a ride to attend the service, or consider viewing a service online. Maybe Christmas caroling is a long-held tradition, but caroling outdoors would be a challenge — is it possible to invite a few neighbors in to sing around a fire, or sing via video call with faraway family?

3. Enlist help.

Recruit the kids, grandkids, close friends or even a homemaker to each cover an item on your to-do list. Maybe that’s cleaning, grocery shopping, putting up decorations, wrapping gifts or taking the dogs for baths. Perhaps you need someone to stay with your loved one while you go out to shop for holiday gifts. Home care agencies like Right at Home can care for your loved one while you are out or are tackling any of the above tasks. Hiring a professional caregiver so you can get regular respite breaks during the holidays and beyond is a deserving gift to put on your wish list.

4. Respect your own self-care.

Family caregivers are at risk for burnout, especially with a full schedule around the holidays. As Thanksgiving and yuletide festivities kick in, it’s important to be intentional about taking care of your own physical health and mental well-being. During the holidays, if it feels impossible to slip away to the fitness center or out for a date night, look for ways to still get exercise and mini-respite breaks. Try parking farther away from stores and walking at a faster pace. If you have home exercise equipment, stick with regular workouts. Tuck your senior loved one in bed earlier at least one night a week so you can enjoy a fun movie or lose yourself in a captivating book. Be sure you get plenty of sleep and stay consistent with eating nutritious foods in between the rich holiday fare. Look for everyday ways to recharge to ward off the extra stress and emotional ups and downs of the holiday season.

5. Modify your expectations.

Caring for a loved one shifts your responsibilities and priorities. It is OK not to do it all yourself. Approach the holiday season by letting go of the more time-intensive activities and focusing more on the quiet, tranquil moments with your care recipient. Share memories about favorite holidays in the past and talk about a special memory shared this year. The holidays can whirl with vibrant social gatherings, but it can also be a time to slow the pace and take in the reflective moments of love and gratitude, for which the holidays are set aside.

Author Beth Lueders

An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.

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