As the holiday seasons are upon us, this should be a time for joy and celebration. But for some caregivers, this time of the year can bring the blues. Trying to live up to past expectations or cooking the perfect holiday dinner can all add up to a lot of pressure. 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.” Whether your loved one is at home or now at a senior living community, there are plenty of ways to keep the holidays joyful.

Let go of expectations. Holding onto family traditions when caring for aging parents can lead to unmanageable anxiety. Let go of those unrealistic expectations for the perfect holiday, even if it means some other family members might be disappointed.

“Begin with a clean slate,” author Donna Thompson said. “Remember that celebration is what feels good to you and your loved one now.”

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. Assisted living communities welcome families with open arms at the holidays. Elder Care Alliance communities have holiday celebrations such as Christmas dinners that are open to residents and their families.

“Many families bring their holidays to their loved ones who can’t travel as easily,” AlmaVia of Camarillo Executive Director Matthew Hathway said. “No one has to miss out when families gather together here. Thanksgiving can still happen with everyone around the table together. Our holiday dinners and lunches are open to families and not just our residents.”

If a more traditional holiday is your style, ask your community if they offer private dining rooms. Most Elder Care Alliance communities have private dining rooms that can be used by residents and their families separate from the main dining rooms.

“Our private dining rooms offer a more at-home feel,” said John Beltz, executive director or AlmaVia of San Rafael.

Private dining rooms can be used for more than just holidays; consider reserving them for birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations. Most rooms are free to use. Residents at Elder Care Alliance communities just need to reserve rooms in advance with the community receptionist. Don’t want to cook? No problem. Catering for your event from dining staff is available upon request for a fee, or you can choose to bring in outside catering.

Take care of yourself. It can be easy to lose track of your own needs during all the holiday commotion. Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, says you need to balance self-care while caregiving. 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 said. “Think of things that bring you joy … things that are just for you.”

Start planning early. The holidays come at the same time every year. Start thinking about how to simplify the holiday season so you can enjoy it early on. Begin by making a to-do list and figuring out which items can be accomplished ahead of time, such as making reservations for a private dining room at your loved one’s community. Send out invitations to family members early enough that they can make appropriate plans.

“Quite a few families take advantage of our private dining room. The majority of families who do spend their holidays with us, however, usually take part in our community dinners with everyone. Families tend to love the camaraderie of everyone in the community,” Hathway said.

Most importantly, be present. Too often caregivers get caught up in caregiving. Take time to enjoy these moments with your family and senior loved one. Whether you spend time looking through scrapbooks filled with old memories or are making new ones, don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the magic of the holiday season.