Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University
Holidays bring out the best and worst in us. Just the thought of festive gatherings surrounded by the people you love most may elicit warm feelings inside. For others, anticipation of the holidays creates an internal feeling resembling a knotted rope. This latter reaction is more common among caregivers. If you are like the average caregiver, you love certain aspects about the holidays but dread others.
Many caregivers are perpetually tired from the emotional and physical demands that result from caring for their loved one. Just the thought of your normal routine plus decorating the house, attending special events, shopping for gifts, and preparing special food for the holidays can be overwhelming.
But what if you had more control over the events, expectations, and relationships that often make holiday times so stressful? This could make a huge difference in the way you and your loved one experience the season. It might even transform the holidays into a season of celebration instead of one to simply endure. It requires exercising some choices you may not be accustomed to. But these can be done with some deliberate effort.
Here are some helpful suggestions to help make this holiday season a joyous, healthful and manageable one for you and your loved one.
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Set realistic expectations for yourself and your loved one
The starting point for not feeling controlled by many holiday demands is to decide what you and your loved one want. How many events, if any, can you both attend or host without overdoing it? Who are the people you most want to be with? What contributions are you capable of making to group needs such as food, drink and gifts? These are basic questions that most caregivers don’t ask themselves. Instead of making decisions that are in their best interest, most wait for others to tell them where to go, what to bring, whose coming, and so on. This year, give yourself permission to say ‘no’ to unwanted demands and stick with it.
Let others know when you need help
Caregivers typically try to do everything themselves. But the holidays are times when there are usually an abundance of family and friends who are eager to help. If you want help with caregiving responsibilities, such as time away for relaxation or an extra hand or two in the kitchen, don’t be afraid to ask. Not only does this help you, but it can be very stimulating and enjoyable for your loved one to have others to interact with and share in his or her care.
Express your emotions with family and friends
The holidays can trigger emotions ranging from joy to depression in caregivers. A strong sense of loss may work its way into your life during the holidays. It might involve coming to grips with the permanent loss of your loved one’s mental or physical abilities. Or perhaps you have a strong feeling that this may be your loved one’s last holiday. Maybe it is the loss of your own freedom with caregiver responsibilities that hits hardest during the holidays. Regardless, talk with others about how you feel. Don’t expect them to intuitively know. By verbally expressing your feelings you lighten your emotional burden and give others a chance to reach out to you for a change.
Take time out for yourself
Everyone seems extra busy during the holidays but for caregivers this can literally mean no rest from morning to night. Start with the essentials: get adequate sleep, eat well and take time on most days for some physical activity. If possible, get out of the house for brief periods to maintain perspective. Consider shopping online or by catalogue for many of your gifts this holiday season. Then use the extra time and energy you would have spent fighting traffic and standing in check-out lines on taking better care of yourself.
Practice rituals that you and your loved one find meaningful
Rituals are important ways to add meaning to your holidays. Yet it’s very easy for the busyness of the holidays to squeeze out any real meaning in the season. Practice rituals that you and your loved one find meaningful, even if no one else is there to share it. This might involve a favorite holiday meal, listening to a song together, visiting a place with special memories for you both, etc. It can also involve family and friends. And don’t be afraid to create new rituals as old ones may have painful memories attached to them.
Celebrate what you and your loved one have right now
Caregiving often involves a continual loss of things you want to hold onto. The feeling that life is slipping through your fingers can create a true sense of helplessness. When we experience this helplessness, it is a sign that we are either trying to recover the past or predict the future. Both cause us undue anxiety because there is little we can do about either. But you can address what’s happening in the present moment. Celebrate what you and your loved one share right now, even though it’s not what you would ultimately prefer. Try to let go of what was or what could be and make the most of what you still have.
It really boils down to making choices. You only have a limited amount of time, energy and resources available. The question is: how are you and your loved one going to spend these? With a little planning and clear communication with friends or family on your intentions, it’s possible to celebrate the holiday, care for your loved one, and take care of yourself.
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