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tlwe223's picture Terri Weber, MSW, CSW
Elder Care Specialist
College or Department
Work-Life and Well-Being
Phone Number
(859) 218-0457
Email Address

A popular holiday song starts “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” but is it really? For many caregivers, the holidays are a time of increased stress and overwhelming challenge. Aside from our usual day-to-day responsibilities of work, family and caregiving, we now have the added demands of the merriest and brightest season. Many caregivers just want the whole thing to be done with.

Something’s gotta give! How can we have more joy and fewer upsets this season?

Here are six ideas to help you enjoy the holidays.

1: Adjust expectations
Knowing things will be different this year and redefining your definition of success will help you avoid a lot of undue stress. Communicate clearly with family and friends that the holiday celebrations and traditions will be scaled down…but not stopped. We often feel obligated to continue family holiday traditions, but it should not be seen as a failure if some of those traditions get skipped to accommodate you and your loved ones’ needs and abilities. You are now a caregiver, and your loved one takes precedence.

2: Simplify, simplify, simplify                                                     
Remember that a holiday doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Choose to do those holiday activities that hold the deepest meaning to you and your loved one. Focus on the things that will bring you the most happiness and joy — decorating the house with your favorite holiday items, watching holiday movies and baking, sending holiday cards. Include your loved one as much as possible in the holiday preparations. But if they are not feeling up to it, let them sit back and watch the magic happen…that’s OK too.

3: Say YES! to help
When friends or family ask if they can help, say YES! Also, don’t be shy about asking for help. Have a list ready of helpful things that others can do easily — pick up groceries, make a meal or dessert, walk the dog, or just sit with your loved one while you are busy or simply want some alone time. You can also free up some time by reaching out to community resources like adult day centers or in-home care agencies.

4: Routine is important
Hustle and bustle are just part of the holiday season, but predictability and consistency are important for your older loved one’s comfort and well-being. Studies have shown that routine can help reduce stress and anxiety; enhance feelings of safety, security, and confidence; and help with better sleep. Encourage friends and family to visit, but keep visits short. Set reminders and alerts to notify you of medication schedules.

5: Be Aware of holiday stressors
Be mindful this holiday season that our older loved one’s threshold for noise, excitement and twinkling lights is much lower than ours; especially those loved ones with dementia.

  • Environmental changes: Introduce the holiday makeover gradually. A one-day holiday transformation with favorite holiday decorations and lights may be confusing and disturbing for your loved one.
  • Large groups of people: Try to spread out visits with friends and family if possible. Make sure there is a designated "quiet space" for your older loved one to retreat to when it gets overwhelming. Explain that "space" to your family members and guests and ask them to respect it. One idea is to have a memory book of places, friends and family handy that your loved one can look at, reminisce and share with visitors.
  • Loud music and noise: Listening to calming music on headphones can help block out excess noise. Use the designated "quiet space" for retreat.
  • Avoid overindulgence of rich foods and drink: Overindulging in holiday foods can have adverse health effects like bloating, constipation and an overall feeling of discomfort. Alcohol can cause changes in blood sugar control and blood pressure. It also affects cognition and memory.

6: Keep self-care a priority
It’s easy to lose sight of your own needs this time of year. Between work, family, holiday planning and caregiving, you are exhausted. Taking time for yourself may sound selfish, but maintaining your physical, emotional and mental health is important; not only for you but for the loved one who depends on you.

  • Physical health            
    • Schedule time for exercise  — a walk in the neighborhood or an online yoga class.        
    • Maintain a bedtime routine; it can help ensure a good night’s rest.
    • Balance holiday foods with healthy eating.
  • Emotional health:
    • Make time for yourself.
    • Put your thoughts into words in a journal.
    • Do something you enjoy — work on a hobby or listen to your favorite music,
    • Ask for help if you need it!
  • Set your own limits. Practice saying no to things that aren’t a priority.
  • Express your gratitude by focusing on what you have rather than on what you don’t.
  • Respect your budget — spending more now only means paying more later.

Holidays are a time for celebration, and there is no right or wrong way to celebrate. Focus on what matters most to you and your loved one. And whatever you are doing, give yourself permission to take a break — you deserve it.
Have fun, eat cookies, treasure the time with your family and friends, take pictures to enjoy later, and Happy Holidays!