Holidays are stressful. There. We said it.
Let’s just admit right now that holidays — as wonderful and memorable as they may be — can also be laden with pressure to be jolly. We set our expectations high during the holiday season: We want to have the happiest family gatherings, give the most thoughtful gifts, make the most succulent turkey, buy the perfect centerpiece … all this seasonal stress we heap on ourselves, on top of the fact we’re the primary caregiver for a family member all year long. No wonder the holidays leave us feeling overwhelmed.
Why do we do this to ourselves? And this holiday season, how do we undo it to ourselves?
What causes holiday stress for caregivers
Providing caregiving duties for an older adult you love can be an emotional strain for even the most resilient person. And though you may feel alone in your struggle, you’re not: More than 1 in 5 American adults provides some form of unpaid care to a family member.
Many of those feelings you’re struggling with throughout the year — trying to balance caregiving duties with your other responsibilities, feeling guilty about wanting some down time, putting in extra hours caring for your loved one and the rest of your family — can compound your stress during the holidays.
And the dynamic may significantly change at family gatherings during the holidays, bringing out a range of emotions. For example:
- Your siblings are back home for the holiday family gatherings, and you feel they’re judging your care.
- You feel unappreciated by family and friends who are asking you to do more over the holidays.
- You’re feeling anxious because you’ve noticed recent health changes in the person you’re caring for.
- You’re upset that other family members haven’t stepped up more to lend a hand.
- You’re sad because of the loss of a parent or other person who once provided the care you’re now providing.
These are just some of the reasons caregivers cite for their holiday stress. But the good news is, there are solutions. Here are 5 tips on how to undo some of the overwhelming feelings, relieve stress, and truly enjoy the holidays this year for a change.
5 caregiver tips to manage holiday stress
- Get to the core of the anxiety. We all have our triggers — family and holidays can be two of them. Putting them together can be one giant trigger. And as a caregiver, you’re already trying to manage a lot of issues. So here’s a helpful analogy: You can’t avoid a road just because it’s bumpy. You plan for it and take it slow and easy. Take a moment and ask yourself what’s causing you concern or worry; once you identify that thing, you can start preparing for it.
- Adjust your expectations. This can be a tough one. We all want to enjoy the holidays, and we tend to idealize what family gatherings may be like. But some family members are challenging and some family dynamics don’t change. Try to find things to be thankful for; be patient and channel your most calm self. If all else fails, just remember: If your family came from out of town, they have to go back home sometime!
- Communicate with family members. Your siblings may not have seen your mom or dad since the last holiday season. They may not realize how much their parent’s health has changed — but you know, because you’ve been there every day, providing care. Let family members know what health changes they may see, and if you’re comfortable sharing, tell them how you’ve been managing those changes.
- If you’re hosting, keep it simple. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the responsibilities associated with hosting family members and friends, hit pause. Do some light decorating in your house, or rent out a space near your home to keep cleanup to a minimum. Plan an easier menu, cater the meal, or ask family members to bring a side dish or dessert.
- Reach out for help. There may be a facility or organization in your community that offers respite care, which offers short-term relief for caregivers. You can arrange it for an afternoon or for a few weeks, and care may be delivered by professionals in a healthcare setting, in your home or at an adult day center.
How to cope with anxiety and stress all year long
Caregivers must take care of themselves first, before they can successfully provide care for others. So don’t neglect your own physical, mental or emotional health. Reach out to other caregivers for support. Take advantage of respite care if you need it. Learn more about anxiety and stress, and discover ways to improve your resilience.