Easing Holiday Stress

As caregivers and loved ones of aging adults, the holiday to-do lists can become demanding as you juggle the needs of your entire family. Having a game plan from the beginning will equip you to not only survive, but thrive during the holidays. Here are 10 strategies for managing your stress and keeping your sanity! 

1. Rethink Stress: Caregiving can push many of the emotional buttons that cause us stress, such as finances, mortality, healthcare decisions or simple housing chores. According to psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, having a positive outlook on our ability to cope will actually make us more resilient in the face of stressful situations. Think of your body as being capable of rising to the occasion and coping with increased stress for a period of time. Your positive perspective will actually have health benefits for you!

2. Break Your Own Rules: We all have holiday rules that we operate by. These can be a mixture of tradition, expectations and learned behavior. Around the holidays there can be a lot of them, such as “thou shalt send out Christmas cards to all  family” or “thou shalt have hand mashed potatoes at holiday dinners.” Many times we want to carry on holiday traditions, but if they become more of a burden than a celebration, break your own rules! Consider simplifying traditions and scaling back things like décor, gift giving or big meals to make your to-do list manageable. It's nice (and relieving) to switch up your routine.

3.  Ask for Help: We can learn a thing or two from that old faithful dog, Lassie. When Timmy falls into the well, the first thing that she does is go and get help. Lassie doesn’t jump into the well headfirst and cause more harm to the situation. Knowing your own limits is hugely powerful and knowing when to ask for help when you’ve “fallen in the well” is a life skill. Make a list of things that you need done so when someone calls and says, “Is there anything I can do?” you are ready with a real response instead of the usual, “No, I’m fine thanks.”  

4. Take Time to Breathe: When we are most stressed or agitated with a situation, we often will take shallow breaths or stop breathing for short periods of time. Whether you can step away from the situation or you have to remain in it, taking 3 deep lung-filling breaths can induce a physical de-stressing process and help to refocus, increasing clarity.

5. Delegate: During the holidays it is important that you have down time. Delegating is a crucial part of making that a real possibility. Consider setting up a schedule for care where different family members take a rotation for attending to aging family members. Delegate the entertaining by having family and friends come up with activities to stay engaged. Make chores a group effort. Moral of the story: you do not have to do it all.

6. Call In the Professionals: Particularly with aging loved ones that are suffering from dementia or have complex care needs, calling in professional reinforcements can be an important gift to yourself and your family. An in-home caregiver can provide care, companionship and help run errands for your loved one, leaving you with time to just be family.  

7. Give Yourself Time: It is easy for any of us to overcommit during the holidays.  From parties, to family gatherings, to volunteer opportunities, there is always something to demand our time. If you are caring for an aging loved one, this is an important time to cherish that person. If you are unsure about committing to an activity, an acceptable answer is, “Thank you for the invitation, I will have to check our schedule and get back to you.” This will give you the time and space to assess what is most important to you and prioritize your commitments before you give an answer.  

8. Planning Ahead: If you have an aging loved one visiting with you over the holidays, making a few preparations before they arrive will really increase safety and help the visit go smoothly. If you have small rugs, consider rolling them up and storing them for the visit as they can be a tripping hazard. Make sure your loved one has their own designated space where they can rest and get away. Install extra nightlights in hallways, stairwells and bathrooms to increase visibility at night. Turn down the hot water temperature to 115 degrees temporarily to prevent accidental burns. Consider labeling appliances like TV remotes, coffee pots, or washers & dryers with easy-to-follow instructions. Allow extra time for any activity so no one feels rushed. 

9. Communicating Needs: Have a conversation about your needs with your family and loved ones. For example, you might say, I need to have 3 hours on Saturday to get some shopping and preparations done and I will need you to take mom and dad out to lunch and a movie. Check in with your loved ones when they arrive to see what their needs are as well. For example, you might check to see if they will need to fill a prescription at the pharmacy, or if they have essential supplies that they need to pick up at the store. Knowing their needs in advance will help you prepare rather than react to needs as they arise.  

10. Self-Care Plan: Make sure that you have a plan in place to care for yourself as you are caring for others. Keeping a regular pattern of sleep, exercise, and nutrition will help with keeping your energy up and your stress levels down. Just like when you are flying on the plane: you have to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. 

Published on December 2, 2016.