Holiday Strategies For Healthy Caregivers

December 13, 2013 at 6:00 a.m.

The holidays are loaded with added stress for caregivers. In addition to the busy schedule most of us face, the caregiver adds the burden of their unique position. It's a good idea to recognize that fact and adjust your expectations of what will happen this year.

  1. Understand the many facets of grief. Being a caregiver involves close contact with people who are losing what they once had -- health, family, and memories. Everyone will have sadness at the holidays because things are different. You also are grieving, along with other family members and the person you care for. Knowing and acknowledging grief gives you the freedom to let go of unrealistic plans for recreating a holiday movie.
  2. Recognize that you cannot do everything. Take advantage of all offers to help by cleaning or doing errands. Use the respite care available, including friends and family members who feel guilty about not visiting other times of the year. Use that respite to do something healthy for yourself; a walk, a book, a movie with friends. You know what will recharge you. Be careful about activities that cause you to be more stressed when they are over! You want to be happy the next day.
  3. Know what will make you react negatively. If a certain relative constantly criticizes your care of their loved one, suggest they do some respite care while you go somewhere else. If you can't avoid them, imagine holding a garbage bag for their words then tie it up and dump it in your imaginary trash can when they leave. If baking makes you crazy, let someone who loves to bake show off.
  4. Plan the holiday schedule with all involved and ask each person to list their top three priorities. Many times these will overlap for the group and you know what to make sure is done. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that nobody minds if there's no big fancy meal prepared, or that an open house with potluck snacks will let everybody visit and see their loved ones at one time. Keep medical and emotional needs in mind -- and your needs as well.
  5. Stay connected. Online support groups, counselors, spiritual support, and friends are important in your life. You should have a network of support set up all year round.
  6. Say "No" sometimes. This frees you to say "Yes" to what is important to you.
  7. Start some new traditions. If travel is out, learn how to do an online video conference. If there's no time or room for a tree, be creative with decorations in another way. Every tradition started somewhere and can be changed to fit today's limitations.

You probably will not be able to do all you want to this year. That's normal, because nobody exists in a bubble. But changing what you can change so that this season is less stressful is a good idea for everybody. In the meantime, slow down, look around you, and appreciate what you have today.

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