Assortment of silver, ball ornaments sitting on top of a feathery surface. The ornaments are lit up from the bottom by fairy lights.

Holidays as Caregivers

Balancing caregiving and the holidays can be very challenging. Here are four tips that can help keep your stress in check.

Reviewed by
Jill Johnson-Young

You are through Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah (I hope the nights were warm and happy), and now we are marching toward Christmas. And then — watch out — here comes New Year's! (More on that later.)

As caregivers we lose a lot over the holidays. We miss the things that have had to change. We miss people who were important who may have disappeared as our caregiving drew us inward. We miss the people our loved ones were before they got so sick or dementia set in (or both). How do we manage that while trying to make the season meaningful or even just a little less to contend with?

Tips for Celebrating the Holidays as a Caregiver

Here are some ways to share and enjoy or be part of things even while caregiving.

1. You have permission to not do anything.

If that is truly where you are, and your loved one is not needing holiday stuff to keep their spirits up, then unplug. Go and enjoy the scent of the orange blossoms. Go to the beach or to a park by the river. Have a picnic or just sit a bit. Holidays are not compulsory. Did you know that?  When I lived in Florida, that first year it was just the two of us. We lived on a lake in an orange grove. It was beautiful and peaceful, but isolated. There were no Christmas lights on the way home. We were adjusting to Florida salaries (not so much fun!) and there wasn't much Christmas to go around. I finally realized I needed some holiday. Of course, it was probably two days before Christmas. I found a sad little tree at a tree lot, and some cheap ornaments in a gas station on my way home from work. It took a single string of lights to brighten that up into a holiday for us. I still have those shell ornaments, and they are now treasured when I put up my tree. There was no stress because I did not make myself to the whole decor thing. I did not plan a meal. We had a simple tree and Chinese take out. Huge was not necessary. This year I am recovering from surgery, and my mom has dementia. The extended family wants a holiday. I set limits, which leads us to number two...

2. You can set limits on what you will do for others to appease their need for things to be the same.

I am in no shape to create the usual holiday extravaganza for 45 people. And Covid. There will be no 45 people. But my mom, who is the care recipient, needs some holiday. Too much will make her nervous. That is common in dementia. Too many people, too much activity, too many memories that may not make total sense. That is not a whole lot of fun. But since she wants Christmas, I set limits on what that means. You can too — that is why I am sharing this. Instead of a huge fresh tree, or a big artificial one and needing to go buy ornaments, I did a thing. Did you know you can buy a tree already lit and decorated? Who knew? One is arriving tomorrow. It has ribbons running from top to bottom, white lights, poinsettias, and some silk bulbs. It will come out of the box ready stand up and plug in. Voila — Christmas! Instead of a big meal there will be a soup evening on Christmas Eve, with some breads and a few side dishes, and pie from Costco. It will be crockpots-are-us. Hours are limited to her need for sleep, and no presents will be exchanged so she does not stress about remembering what she (we) purchased. How can you simplify?

3. Spending does not mean caring.

It never has. Now, sending a drummer boy may not be the ticket. I never understood that one. What new mom wants a kid with a drum set next to a sleeping baby? But overspending to make up for changes in the holidays or the ability of your loved one to do things for the holidays will do two things: Create stress and make money tighter after the holidays. How about drawing names? Or creating family unit gifts? Or finding a group thing to do that your loved one can be part of rather than presents everywhere?

4. Find your own space.

Walk. Breathe. Do not allow yourself or anyone else to talk you into overdoing. Give yourself some space to acknowledge the changes and to grieve them if you need to. They are real losses.

Photo by Toni Cuenca from Pexels

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