The holidays are supposed to be a joyous time for giving thanks and celebrating with family and friends. But for many people, they are also a stressful time. That’s especially true if you’re the primary caregiver for a loved one with a life-threatening illness.
Even on ordinary days, caregivers must struggle to balance their loved one’s needs with their own. During the holidays, those demands are amplified with the added expectation of planning celebrations and responding to invitations. And in a time of global pandemic, many people are wondering if there even is a safe way to celebrate this year.
When you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, it’s important to remember you’re only one person. Believe it or not, there’s no such thing as a “perfect” holiday, even under the best of circumstances. Let’s take a look at some ways to cut down on holiday stress for your loved one, your family and yourself.
Set Some Priorities
When planning holiday activities, prioritize the health and well-being of your loved one and yourself. Which activities would allow both of you to fully enjoy the occasion while staying calm, contented and safe?
For the 2020 holidays, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that large family gatherings are considered high-risk activities for spreading COVID-19. This is especially concerning for individuals over 65 and those with health conditions that put them at risk of complications from the virus.
For those with life-threatening conditions and their caregivers, this may mean only celebrating in person with members of the same household. Use online tools like Zoom or Facebook Messenger to host virtual celebrations with family members who live elsewhere. Keep the spirit alive by showing off decorations, looking at pictures, or sharing recipes so everyone can enjoy the same meal simultaneously.
Whether you’re celebrating in person, online, or a little of both, try to maintain a consistent routine for both you and your loved one. Make sure both of you are getting the right amount of sleep, nutrition and exercise, as well as proper hydration. People with dementia, in particular, generally do best when meals, bedtime and other activities happen at the same time everyday.
Keep Expectations Realistic
The holidays are a nostalgic time when we focus on the past, by sharing time-honored rituals, songs, foods and other traditions. When a loved one has dementia or other terminal illness, we may find ourselves yearning even more for the way things used to be. We also mourn the “loss” of in-person gatherings of the pre-pandemic world, and wonder whether this year’s online gatherings can measure up.
One way to cope with this sense of loss is to practice mindfulness, appreciate the present moment for what it is and consider new perspectives. Simple celebrations are just as meaningful as large, elaborate ones. They offer a chance to slow down and focus on relationships with fewer distractions. A smaller Christmas tree can be just as beautiful as one that reaches the ceiling. A take-out meal can be just as delicious as a huge feast that took days to prepare. Let this be the year for simply enjoying the holiday without having to do everything.
Your loved one may be frustrated if they are unable to do all the things they once did. For example, they may no longer have the strength to put up a tree. They may not be able to stand long enough to prepare a meal. If this is the case, offer them new ways to participate. Instead of putting up the tree, let them hang a few decorations. In the kitchen, they could spread frosting on cupcakes while seated at the table.
Take Care of Yourself
As a caregiver, you may devote so much time and energy to your loved one that you end up neglecting your own needs. You may even feel guilty about taking a break now and then. Caregiver burnout is an all-to-common occurrence which often leads to feelings of stress and depression. You may also find yourself withdrawing from other relationships or having trouble sleeping.
During the holidays it can be even more challenging to find the time for self care. Remember, it’s okay to say no sometimes. Don’t feel guilty about turning down an invitation if you need to spend some quiet time alone. Focus on your physical and emotional health through exercise, yoga or other healthy activities.
Don’t feel pressured to put on a “brave face” 100% of the time. It’s okay to cry if you’re sad about what your loved one is going through, or if you’re feeling stressed out and frustrated. Acknowledge negative emotions and seek out healthy ways to cope. For example, some people find that writing in a journal helps. Other good ways to de-stress include engaging in hobbies, working puzzles, meditation and prayer or virtual appointments with a mental health professional.
Ask for Help
It’s important to recognize when you’ve reached your limit and have the confidence to ask for help. Many caregivers feel like they have to “do it all” and are afraid others will judge them negatively if they ask.
A great way to get extra help is to be specific. Don’t have time to get groceries? Check with a neighbor about picking up a few things for you. Is your car in the shop? Ask a family member if they can give your loved one a ride to their next doctor visit. Seek out community resources for meeting your emotional needs. Many nonprofits and churches offer support groups and other services for caregivers.
Finally, consider respite care services to make sure your loved one receives the care they need while you take a break. Good options include in-home caregivers, adult day programs or a temporary stay in a skilled nursing center.
At Crown Hospice, we are committed to the well-being of patients and caregivers alike. That’s why we offer comprehensive caregiver support services. If you need information on how we can help your family during this challenging time, please call us at 361-575-5900 or contact us online.