How does that old Christmas song go? It’s the most hectic time of the year?
Well, we think that maybe that’s the way it should go!
The holidays can be stressful under the best of circumstances. There are gifts to wrap, cookies to bake, a tree to decorate. Most people feel frazzled this time of year.
For family caregivers, the stress can be overwhelming.
In addition to the hustle and bustle of the holidays and the regular day-to-day obligations of work and family, they also have the added pressure of tending to a loved one who can’t properly care for themselves.
According to a survey by AARP, 7 in 10 family caregivers say it is emotionally stressful to care for loved ones during the holiday season. Still, many of them feel positive about the holidays: It feels good to be useful and it’s rewarding to care for those you love.
If you are a caregiver and you’d like to minimize holiday burnout (and maximize holiday joy!), we have a few suggestions that can help. Keep reading to learn how to relax more and stress less during this hectic season:
Go in (Mentally) Prepared
Now that you’re a family caregiver, don’t expect the holidays to be the same as they were in the past. As your older loved ones continue to age, traditions and celebrations will likely need to change.
This doesn’t have to be a disappointment.
It may be true that your mother can no longer cook the Christmas ham, or your dear uncle can no longer take part in the annual gift exchange – but accepting these changes is in the best interest of both you (the caregiver) and your loved one.
Fighting the inevitable and trying to force issues just for the sake of “tradition” can add more stress for everyone involved. Instead, why not create new rituals that work well for everyone involved?
Be Aware of Limitations
There can be a fine line between “fun” and “stressful” – and although caregiver burnout can occur at any time of year, it’s particularly common during the holidays.
Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and other holidays are usually a time to celebrate with family, but for those caring for an older loved one, celebrations are often just one more responsibility on their already overflowing plate.
Unfortunately, a caregiver is a person who just never seems to get a break – and the holidays are no different. In fact, the added commitments of the holiday season can make those times even more stressful than normal (even though they’re supposed to be “happy” days).
The end result? Overwork, depression, and guilt can lead to a caregiver’s breakdown.
As a caregiver, it is important to remember to create small moments of “me time,” no matter how busy you become. While that may seem like an impossible task, there are ways to make yourself a priority (even if you only have minutes a day).
Know How to Identify Stressors
Fact: Not every person is stressed out by the same things. For some people, it might be crowds or loud noises. For others, it might be having too many things on their to-do list and not enough time.
Being aware of what makes you go over the proverbial edge can help you avoid those situations altogether.
Think about the things that you do during your day and how acting as a caregiver adds stress. What sets you off?
- Worrying that your older loved one’s needs aren’t being met?
- Feeling concerned that you aren’t meeting the needs of your spouse and children?
- Agonizing that you are neglecting your duties at your day job?
- Feeling like you can’t get everything done?
- Not having enough time to yourself?
Once you know what your triggers are, you can start looking for solutions.
Ask for Help
You took on the responsibility of caring for a loved one, but that doesn’t mean it has to be your responsibility alone.
As a primary caregiver, you may feel like you can’t ask others for help: Maybe you don’t want to be a burden yourself or you don’t want to appear irresponsible. But other family members and friends are often happy to help if given the opportunity.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones when you need a break – even those that live out-of-town.
During the holidays, it is likely that relatives will be in town to visit. These are people who likely haven’t seen their older family member in months (or more) and might be eager to have some alone time.
Use that as an opportunity to head out and spend some time on you, whether it’s just a quick trip to pick up some takeout or an appointment for a long-overdue haircut.
Adjust Holiday Celebrations
The best thing you can do to avoid holiday burnout? Know that you can’t do it all.
This may mean making changes to your normal holiday routine, but that’s ok. Here are some suggestions:
- Tweak holiday meals: Cooking a holiday feast can be a time-consuming process. Don’t be afraid to buy pre-made meals from a local supermarket or restaurant. In the end, it’s not the food that matters – it’s spending time with family.
- Don’t stress about decorations: Don’t have time to put up Christmas lights this year? Trust us: No one will even notice. Put out the decorations that are personally meaningful and leave the rest for another time.
- Be flexible with shopping: Take advantage of Amazon and other online retailers to shop stress-free at your own convenience – there’s no need to find the time to actually browse the shelves at a crowded shopping mall.
- Ask loved ones to come to you: The holidays are often filled with endless running around from one celebration to the next. This year, ask friends and loved ones to come to you to help limit your stress.
- Take a break: It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday frenzy. Don’t forget to take some downtime when you need it and let people know if you’re not up to a visit or a party. They WILL understand.