The holidays are a joyous, festive time of year, but they can also be a very stressful time for families. Between the hustle and bustle of preparing for extra company, shopping, and playing host –while also trying to enjoy the experience ourselves — the holiday season can bring upon a lot of stress. For the caregiver of a senior loved one, this time of year adds additional stresses that other people might not ordinarily encounter.
While holiday celebrations can present challenges for all of us, for already overwhelmed caregivers, the added pressures of the season can be downright exhausting. Seasonal tasks such as shopping for holiday gifts, wrapping presents, decorating the house and hosting parties can take a toll. The result can often be a case of caregiver burnout.
Unicity Eldercare understands the role of family caregiver. In the article below, we provide some tips you can use to lighten your load, as well as to take care of your own mental, emotional, and physical health during the holiday season.
Preventing Holiday-Related Caregiver Burnout
As we head into this holiday season, it is important for family caregivers to ask for and accept help. Not asking for help can cause caregivers to withdraw and avoid celebrating the holidays altogether. In fact, studies have shown that four in ten caregivers say they can’t manage it all during the holidays. However, caregivers deserve to celebrate the holidays, too, time to relax, and time to enjoy family and friends.
Even if you don’t normally do so, the holidays are a great time to get some extra help — even a few hours can be a huge relief. Family and friends can help with holiday preparations, and you can start simply by asking a relative or friend to pick up a few gifts while they are doing their own shopping, or asking them to stay with your loved one so you can enjoy a holiday event on your own. Ask family and friends to help with direct care for your loved ones, or try community resources like adult day care centers, in-home or facility-based respite care, or paid home health aides/caregivers.
Some other helpful tips to alleviate caregiver stress this season:
- Adapt How You Host: While tradition might have had you hosting a formal sit-down holiday dinner, consider changing it up for a get-together that’s easier to manage, such as a potluck or a cocktail party.
- Gift-Giving Simplified: Gift-giving is a huge part of the holidays, but can be costly and time-consuming. Try shopping online, or enlist a friend or relative to do some of your shopping and wrapping for you. Gift cards are also very popular and a very low-stress way to show people you care.
- Set Reasonable Goals: Just give yourself a break! Do only what you can reasonably manage, in light of the fact that caregiving is an enormous responsibility. It is OK to say “no” to requests that you just cannot fulfill this time of year. No one will think less of you.
- Be Flexible: Accept that some of your holiday traditions may need to change given your loved one’s needs, and your care taking role. You may need to scale back on decorating and other outings to adjust everyone’s wants and needs.
- Create New Traditions: Lowering holiday stresses can often be aided by creating new traditions to replace ones that just don’t work for your family situation any longer. For example, you might start a new tradition of watching old home movies or family photos albums to look at together on Christmas Eve or Hanukkah.
Helping Those You Are Caring For Enjoy The Holidays
One of the most important points to remember as a caregiver is to try to maintain a sense off familiarity with the one we are caring for. For those with memory issues and dementia, confusion and unfamiliar change often brings distress to both the caregiver and their loved one. Here are some ways to help both of you have your best holiday season together:
- Inclusion: Wherever possible, try to include your loved one in some holiday preparations. Focus on their strengths, and let them use their own capabilities to help with small tasks. Including your loved one also occupies them so you are able to deal with other holiday preparations.
- Less Is More: When it comes to decorating and gifts, there is no need to overdo it and fill a room with presents; not only can it create a safety hazard to the one you are caring for, it can cause feelings of confusion and overwhelm your loved one. In addition, extra decorating comes the use of additional electrical cords, which you need to make sure are secured for safety reasons. Try to keep your home as “normal” as possible and don’t move too many things around; for those with dementia, moving the furniture around may lead to confusion and agitation.
- Keep A Schedule: schedule all of your important holiday activities early in the day; for someone who is living with Alzheimer’s, stress and agitation may increases as the day goes on. Toward’s days’ end, just sitting and quietly visiting together is more beneficial for all involved. Just seeing family faces and hearing quiet conversation may be quite enjoyable for your loved one, and for you, too.
- Focus On What’s Most Meaningful: Perfection is not the goal of the holidays — meaning and joy are. We can’t control when it comes to our loved ones’ health and abilities, so adjust your view of what a “successful”holiday really is. Focus on producing a warm, holiday feeling and creating good memories.
- Make New Memories: Try not to focus on what you and/or your loved ones aren’t able to do this year, try doing something new. If you can’t make it to a holiday gathering, have a video chat between your loved one and other family members. Adjusting expectations will help reduce stress and provide comfort for everyone.
- Adjust Meals: Food is a big part of many holidays, but as a caregiver to your senior loved one, mealtime traditions often needed to be modified. Formal meals require too much time, money and effort on the part of the caregiver, but if you simplify the menu you can easily still host a successful meal. Split up the grocery shopping and cooking between a few people, or consider purchasing part of your meal.
Self-Care For The Caregiver
As caregivers, we give and give — and during the holiday season, we feel we have to give even more. However realistically we all know that overdoing it can leave you running on empty, along with bringing high stress levels to a breaking point. When we’re busy it’s easy to let self-care slip, but caregivers need to find ways to take care of themselves:
- Take Care Of You: Get plenty of sleep, and enjoy in holiday goodies here and there. Get outside for some mood-elevating vitamin D from sunlight, or relax with some holiday-scented aromatherapy to soothe and boost your mood. Even exercise can help you feel less stressed. Taking ten minutes during the middle of the day for a quick walk might be just the stress-buster you need.
- Be Kind To Yourself: Many family caregivers struggle with feelings of inadequacy, and the holidays can further exacerbate this issue. Try to use the holiday season to change the way you treat yourself. Be proud of who you are and acknowledge the huge amount you do for your loved one!
- Find Support Groups: Finding a support group of your peers to talk with can also help. Who else is better to understand and relate to your feelings and struggles than those going through the same things you are? Support groups also provide insight and resources to help you manage caregiving during the holidays. If you can’t manage to make it to a group in person, online support group are an amazing way to connect to others just like you.
- Adjust Your Mindset: Steer your mind to the positives when you start going down a negative path; as hard as it can be this time of year, try to stay mindful and enjoy the present moment. Think about and celebrate what your loved ones can do, not what they cannot do any longer. Rather than dwelling on what they can no longer participate in; revel in the holiday joys you experience now and appreciate the help you are receiving from the supportive people in your life.
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As you can see, there are ways to alleviate the stress you may feel as a caregiver during this hectic time of year. The bottom line is that this time is precious — so try and savor the moments with your loved ones, so you can make good memories you’ll cherish forever.
If you are concerned about a loved one and need further assistance, Unicity Eldercare is here to help.
You can benefit from the expertise of our experienced Geriatric Care Managers, and may inquire on how to seek help from Unicity’s qualified home care professionals to help ease the burden.