6 Ways to Manage Caregiver Stress During the Holidays

6 Ways to Manage Caregiver Stress During the Holidays

Tips from the Mayo Clinic, the Alzheimer’s Association, Harvard Health, and the Caregiver Action Network to manage caregiver stress.

November is National Family Caregivers Awareness Month. It’s also the start of the holiday season. Is this a coincidence? We think not. Instead, it seems perfectly logical that awareness for caregivers would coincide with what can be the most stressful time of year for all of us taking care of family members. It’s not easy being a family caregiver. And it’s even harder during the holiday season! Here are six suggestions gathered from the Mayo Clinic, the Alzheimer’s Association, Harvard Health, and the Caregiver Action Network.

Often, the scariest thing about a loved one’s medical condition is not what you know, but what you don’t know. Learning as much as you can about your loved one’s condition can not only help decrease anxiety about the unknown, but can help caregivers predict the needs and complications that are likely to arise. Really, knowing about your loved one’s condition can help you stay ahead of things instead of feeling like you’re in the dark.

You know that feeling on a sled when you pass the point of control and have no choice but to ride blindly into whatever is coming next? It’s not a great feeling, often punctuated by face-planting into a snowbank. As a family caregiver, you can lessen this feeling by staying organized. At some point you will need a detailed record of your loved one’s interventions and treatments, and you may even want a diary-like record of his or her symptoms. Staying organized will save you time in the long run, while saving your sanity every day.

This may not be the year for the 12-course Thanksgiving dinner for 30 guests. Try to be honest with yourself — if ambitious holiday plans are simply unrealistic, it’s best to make the call now, both for yourself and for the many others in your group of family and friends that might be affected. Instead, try to focus on making realistic plans that are also meaningful. Ask yourself what you could realistically do this holiday season that when you look back next year, you would be glad you did?

Sometimes it seems easier to do everything yourself than it is to manage the people who are trying to help. But maybe in the spirit of the season of giving it’s time to try accepting the help that’s offered. However, you don’t have to accept help in the form it’s offered. Maybe you need meals or someone to rake the leaves in your yard, or someone to pick up your kids from sports practice. When someone offers help, try suggesting a specific way they can contribute. Then accept this help with grace.

It’s easy to feel like you’ve been doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to caregiving for your loved one. And in that case, it can be VERY hard to thank other people who have chipped in a couple minutes here and there. But in addition to being the season of giving, the holidays are also a season of forgiving. Try thanking the people who have contributed to care by complimenting their attention to a specific act. For example, you might say, “Thank you for helping us unload groceries that day in March,” or, “Thank you for bringing us coffee in May.” Rather than blame, gratitude makes you feel good and may go a lot further in encouraging these people to chip in more minutes in the future.

There you are, a family caregiver in the middle of a yoga class, all by yourself… and the only thing you feel is an overwhelming sense of guilt. Don’t worry: We’ve all been there. It’s seems impossible to have fun or take care of yourself when you know your loved one is suffering. But if you burn yourself out, where will your loved one be, then? Taking care of yourself — not only your health, but also your own sense of joy and enjoyment — is an essential piece of taking care of your loved one. This holiday season, find time to do the things you love so that you can be there for your loved one long after the holidays are over.