Caregivers: Beat the Holiday Blues

Tips for coping with the stress of caring for an aging parent during the holiday season.

The holidays are a time for joy and celebration, but they can also be a stressful time—especially for caregivers. Whether it’s trying to cook the perfect Thanksgiving dinner or keeping an eye on Mom while hosting out-of-town guests, the holiday season can be tough for those caring for aging parents.

That stress combined with a sense of loss due to changes in family traditions can cause many caregivers to experience what experts call the “holiday blues.” Here are some strategies to help caregivers make the most of the holiday season.

Let go of expectations. Holding on to family traditions when caring for aging parents can lead to unmanageable anxiety. “Begin with a clean slate,” says Donna Thomson, author of The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Life of Caregiving. “Remember that celebration is what feels good to you and your loved one now.” Let go of those unrealistic expectations for the perfect holiday, even if it means some family members might be disappointed.

Make new memories. Instead of being sad about what your loved one might not be able to do, reinvent the holiday. If your mom always hosted the family at her house but she’s moved to a senior living community, bring the holiday spirit to her. Check out what kinds of celebrations her community has planned and make attending as a family part of your new tradition. Caregivers need to “shift our thinking from abandoning things we love to adapting [in order] to still do things we love,” says Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club and author of A Cast of Caregivers: Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care. “A lot of times we feel like we can’t do things anymore when really we just have to do them differently.”

Take care of yourself. It can be easy to lose track of your own needs during all the holiday commotion. “You need to balance self-care while caregiving,” Snelling says. She recommends starting “Me Time Mondays,” a weekly opportunity for caregivers to focus on their own health and well-being. “Use Monday as your reset button,” Snelling says. “Think of things that bring you joy, that are just for you.” For Snelling, it’s walking in nature or going to a movie in the middle of the day.

Start planning early. “As caregivers, we’re always reacting,” Snelling says. But the holidays come at the same time every year. Start thinking about how to simplify the season so you can enjoy it. Begin by making a to-do list and figuring out which items can be accomplished ahead of time. For example, Thomson starts baking treats in early November and freezes them until she’s ready to serve them.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Hire a personal cleaning service to tidy the house before the big get-together, or ask a family member to bring dessert. Thomson recommends programs such as Tyze Personal Networks and Lotsa Helping Hands to make sharing tasks easier.

Be present. Too often caregivers get caught up in caregiving. Last holiday season, Snelling bought her stepfather The Ultimate Johnny Carson Collection. In between trips to the doctor’s office, they watched the DVDs. “It was joyful,” Snelling says.

Whether you spend time looking through scrapbooks filled with old memories or making new ones, don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the magic of the holiday season.

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