The holiday season can be stressful for caregivers. It’s an opportunity to spend time with family and share good food, gifts and holiday cheer – but it’s also a time of added caregiver stress and longer-than-usual to-do lists. Add in the responsibility of caregiving and it’s easy to see why some caregivers feel a certain amount of trepidation about the season.
Related: Best Holiday Gifts for Seniors
We’ve put together a list of simple techniques to help reduce caregiver stress during the holiday season.
7 Tips to Reduce Caregiver Stress
Tip#1 Plan Ahead
The holiday season always arrives sooner than expected. Prevent rushing later by planning now. Think about:
- Upcoming doctor or hospital appointments
- Pharmacy visits and medication refills
- Any seasonal events your senior wishes to attend
- Family and friend get-togethers
- Family meals (and special dietary requirements)
- Holiday gift and food shopping
- Daily activities that still need doing such as cleaning
Use a paper diary, bullet journal, or online app to schedule and track all upcoming activities. Put together an action plan you can refer to, so you and your senior stay on track with appointments, events, tasks and chores.
Tip #2 Know Your Holiday Triggers
Everyone has their own holiday triggers. They’re aspects of the holiday season that you find especially worrisome or draining, and they can quickly sap your energy and your mood.
Common holiday triggers include:
- Financial worries
- Over committing to activities and events
- The need to make everything perfect
- Strained family relationships
- Behavioral issues or mood changes in your senior
Knowing your triggers means you can look out for potentially stressful situations, and take action early to reduce stress and take care of yourself.
Tip #3 Recognize Stress
Sometimes we are so busy focusing on what has to be done that stress slips under our radar and we don’t even realize we are suffering from it.
Stay aware of the signs of stress. They include:
- A feeling of panic or irritability
- Physical problems such as headaches, muscle aches or digestive upset
- Lack of motivation and reduced enthusiasm for things you normally enjoy
- Exhaustion and / or problems with sleep
- Comfort eating or reduced appetite
- Weight loss or gain
- Reliance on “numbing” activities such as drinking alcohol, smoking, over-eating or watching TV
- Anxiety or depression
- Reduced concentration or foggy thinking
When you notice signs of stress, stop. Take some quiet time to check in with yourself and ask “what is stressing me the most?” Come up with a short action plan to reduce stress, such as asking for help, getting support, making a to-do list or saying no to some activities.
Tip #4 Make A Self Care List
When you are already feeling wound tight, it’s hard to stop and think of coping strategies. Make a self-care list and keep it somewhere close at hand. Include techniques and activities that you find soothing, such as:
- Meditation, mindfulness or breathing exercises
- Coffee or a phone chat with a good friend
- Watching a funny movie or listening to uplifting music
- Gentle exercise such as walking, yoga, tai chi, or swimming
- A spa or beauty treatment like massage, a face mask or getting your nails done
- Writing in your journal
- Doing something creative
- Spending time on your favorite hobby
- Taking a time out such as a bubble bath, time reading a book, or a leisurely cup of tea
- Buying flowers for your home or using incense or a scented wax or oil burner
When stress hits, refer to your list to remind yourself what you can do to support yourself, and do it.
Tip #5 Take Care Of Yourself
Your self care list isn’t only for stressful times. Make use of it every single day. Schedule in daily self care time just as you would schedule in an appointment, and stick to it.
Caregiving over the holidays is rewarding, but it is also hard work. Your loved one won’t get the best of you if you are running on empty. Self care benefits both of you, and makes the holidays a much more enjoyable time.
It’s also important to get support. You can talk with a trusted friend or family member, connect with a local or online caregiver support network, or talk with a therapist. Support and self care are vital for reducing stress and supporting your mental health during the holidays.
Tip #6 Hire Or Ask For Help
You don’t have to do everything alone and in fact it’s not healthy to try and do so. There are many ways to get help:
- Ask a friend to sit with your senior for an hour while you go grocery shopping
- Ask neighbors to help winterize your senior’s home
- Find local friendship groups or senior centers that your loved one can visit for a morning or afternoon each week
- Hire a cleaning crew to get your home or your senior’s home ready for the holiday season
- Hire someone to help with laundry or shopping
- Enlist friends and family members’ help in the run up to the holidays
- Draw up a schedule so others can take over some duties such as cleaning, shopping, meal prep, gift wrapping or caregiving
Tip #7 Keep It Simple
So much holiday stress comes from the pressure to be perfect and get things just right.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money or effort on creating a wonderful holiday. Simple celebrations are just as meaningful. Here are some ways you can simplify your holiday:
- Have a “no gift” pact with some of your friends and families, or do a secret Santa so you don’t have to buy so many gifts
- Replace elaborate home cooked meals with a meal out, a simpler menu, or pre-prepared side dishes, starters and desserts
- Prioritize the activities that really matter to you and your senior, and say no to the rest
- Use gift bags for wrapping presents
- Send e cards, or only send cards to your closest friends and family
- Give yourself permission to say no to events or activities that you know are draining and stressful
The best holidays include quality time with your loved ones. Make that your focus and the season will seem less daunting.
Holiday caregiving can be very rewarding and leave you with a definite glow of festive cheer. Try out some of our tips for a more relaxed, more enjoyable, and less stressful holiday for you and your senior. For more on caregiving, check out these other articles.