6 Tips for Caregivers During the Holidays

Christmas carols, a roaring fire, a table spread with delicious food, family smiling around the tree. This idyllic scene is the image that movies and advertisements tell us we should strive for every year. Only this isn’t reality, is it? Yes, there may be a tree and music and cookies and smiling family gathered around, but when you are the primary caregiver for a loved one with unique needs, those Norman Rockwell expectations are impossible to meet.

There are specific care needs, routines, and daily living situations to tend to. Add in the complexities of bringing the extended family together for the holidays, and there’s an entirely new level of stress to deal with.

Instead of putting energy (that you don’t have) into creating the perfect holiday (that won’t actually happen) and ending up feeling guilty and exhausted, let go of that festive fantasy and celebrate the reality that’s right in front of you. Here are some tips to help you add in more joy and take away some of the stress this holiday season.

Adjust Your Expectations

Don’t compare this year to past holiday celebrations. It’s unfair and will only set you up for disappointment. While there is an element of grieving the loss of what you had, try focusing on what you and your loved ones are able to do this year. Maybe even start a new tradition, like a holiday movie night, driving through a light display, or watching a concert on television. In all of these things, keep in mind that even if you do everything possible to create a special holiday, your loved one may not understand or appreciate what’s happening. Even if, despite your best efforts, they don’t join in the cheerful spirit, it is not your fault. You can’t control their mood. Let go of the guilt and give yourself permission to enjoy the season.

Keep Things Simple

Your health and sanity are the best gifts you can give to your loved one. If holiday shopping, fancy decorations, and multi-course meals go by the wayside this year, it is 100 percent ok. Spending quality time with the people you care about is what really matters. A low-key holiday celebration may be exactly what all of you need. And remember, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Instead of decking every inch of the halls, just put out a few decorations that have meaning, or ask a friend to help. If attending multiple functions feels like too much, pick one or two and send your regrets to the others. They will understand.

Anticipate Holiday Hot Buttons

Whether it’s difficult family members, feelings of grief and loss, critical relatives, or something else, there are situations that trigger stress around the holidays. If you can limit your exposure to – or even possibly avoid – these people, places, events, and gatherings, you’ll be doing yourself a big favor. If you can’t avoid them completely, then mentally and emotionally prepare yourself. Opt for brief encounters and develop a quick exit strategy. Practice gratitude, stay focused on what really matters, and let the negative energy pass you by.

Take Care of Yourself

We’ve all heard it before, but it’s worth repeating – self-care is not selfish. You need a holiday break too. To make sure you get some time off, make plans for holiday caregiving help as soon as possible. Find ways to fill your tank. For instance, if you use a hired caregiver, talk with them about their holiday schedule in advance so you can coordinate and plan ahead. Be honest with friends and family who are visiting for the holidays and ask for help. Create a schedule where everyone takes a few hours or even a day so that you can recharge. This way you are able to be fully present and enjoy the holidays yourself.

Enjoy What’s Most Important

We’ve already established that the perfect holiday experience is a fantasy. Perfection is not your goal – spending meaningful moments with your loved ones is. When it comes to your loved one’s health, abilities, and mood – as well as external factors like timing, weather, and other relatives – there are a lot of things that are out of your control. Prioritize the activities and experiences that hold the deepest meaning. Focus on the things that will bring you joy and peace. This is what will create the kind of holiday memories we all hope for.