The Tender Loving Eldercare Blog

Four Ways Family Caregivers Can Keep Holiday Stress Low

The countdown to the holidays has begun, and for many of us that means holiday stress. Walk into any grocery store or big box retailer and the Halloween, Thanksgiving and yes, even Christmas or Chanuka decorations are on display. Personally, I think the retailers are rushing things, but in terms of planning for the holidays as a family caregiver, it’s wise to take time now to think about your options and plan ahead.

For family caregivers the holiday season can be both blessing and a curse.  A blessing because it provides opportunities for wonderful family gatherings and a curse because it provides opportunities for wonderful family gatherings. While most people get on a holiday “high,” caregivers may struggle through this time of year due to prior expectations families have about keeping traditional celebrations.

Do you already feel your stress level starting to rise?

To help maintain your mental health, here are four ways to keep stress levels lower during the holidays.

Create New Traditions


Most families have holiday traditions going back many years. However, situations may be different now depending on your care recipient’s physical condition and/or cognitive level.  In particular, people with memory loss may react adversely to a big, noisy gathering of many family members. It would be wise to downsize holiday get togethers if that is your new reality.  Spread Thanksgiving and Christmas out over a full week and have just one couple or a few people (3-4 maximum) stop by for short visits. Limiting the number of visitors and length of their visits will help you and your loved one remain on an even keel.

If you can’t continue prior family traditions, don’t wallow in disappointment.  Focus on the positive instead and look for ways to create new traditions. Instead of cooking a traditional holiday dinner, perhaps you can order a pre-cooked meal or prepare just one or two dishes that are family favorites, such as Grandma’s sweet potato pie. The less time spent cooking is more time you can spend on self-care for yourself or chatting with visitors. And smaller or take-out meals mean less dishes to do.


Simplify Your Activities


The holidays don’t have to be extravagant, event-filled days. You can scale back the number of activities and still enjoy the spirit of the holiday season. Perhaps you can stick to one or two holiday activities that you love, such as decorating the tree or wrapping a few presents. These two activities can be done over several days so as not to tire yourself or your care recipient. Some favorite traditions can continue in your scaled down gatherings, such as watching football games, Christmas or Chanukah movies and the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.


Keep to a Regular Schedule


The hustle and bustle of holiday planning and celebrations may leave your loved one overtired and confused, especially if they have memory loss. To help ease their frustration, try to stick to a routine as much as possible. Schedule time for visitors when they’re at their best and include time for naps — for both of you. This way, you can make sure he or she is feeling refreshed and have quality time with dear relatives.


Ask for Help


Don’t ever feel ashamed to ask for help! Taking care of a loved one while also celebrating the holidays is challenging and can lead to even more stress for caregivers. Simply asking for some assistance with daily chores or errands will help you stay focused on caring for your loved one, which is your number one priority. Asking for help is also self-care. You don’t have to do everything yourself!


Family caregivers often struggle through this time of year with sadness in their hearts. Yes, you may have feelings of disappointment because your old traditions have had to change. But, if use your ingenuity, you can create lovely holiday celebrations regardless. And maybe you’ll even create fun ways of celebrating that will become new family traditions!


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Linda Abbit, Author of the Conscious Caregiver

About Linda Abbit

Linda Abbit is a caregiving expert, author, and a frequent in-person and virtual keynote speaker and workshop presenter. As a family caregiver with more than twenty-five years of hands-on experience, Linda has faced many caregiving challenges and a wide variety of situations while caring for her parents and other family members.

Read more about Linda's experience and how she helps caregivers. Need help at your fingertips? Get Linda's book, The Conscious Caregiver: A Mindful Approach to Caring for Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself.