Twenty-nine percent of adult Americans like you care for a family member reports the American Psychological Association. Your caregiver responsibilities bring you joy and give your loved one freedom to remain at home in a familiar environment. However, you face challenges, too, especially around the holiday season as you balance your responsibilities with holiday preparations and celebrations. In honor of National Family Caregivers Month, we’ve put together this list of healthy coping strategies to help you protect your mental health, care for your loved one and enjoy the holiday season.
Create an Action Plan
The weeks before the holidays fill up quickly with activities, appointments and other obligations. Plan your schedule now and create an action plan that helps you successfully navigate the holidays, juggle all your responsibilities and savor the wonder of the season.
- Record medical appointments, pharmacy trips and other essential outings for your loved one.
- Plan ahead for holiday mealtime considerations for your loved one.
- Consider, prioritize and schedule your holiday celebrations. What activities are essential? Which parties or gatherings must you attend? When will you meet with family and friends to exchange gifts or share a meal? Make time for the most important holiday activities so you don’t miss the events that are a priority for you.
- Add at least one self-care activity to your daily to-do list.
- Schedule time to shop, bake and clean or delegate these activities.
Identify Your Holiday Triggers
A time of peace and goodwill, the holidays can also create stress. A variety of situations may cause you to feel unpleasant emotions that trigger grief or unhappy emotions like anger, guilt or discouragement.
To combat holiday triggers, first identify them. You may face:
- Financial worries
- Strained family relationships
- Grief or loss
- Unmet expectationv
After you write your trigger list, brainstorm coping strategies that address each trigger in a helpful and healthy manner. You may decide to give fewer gifts, avoid certain places, people or movies, use meditation or yoga to prepare yourself for holiday gatherings or delegate activities. The healthy coping strategies you choose won’t eliminate triggers, but they will equip you to maintain your holiday spirit.
You may focus so closely on caring for others that you don’t notice when you are stressed. Check your daily life for these common signs of stress.
- Physical problems, including headaches
- Emotional fluctuations
- Lack of motivation
- Foggy thinking
- Weight gain or loss
- Loss of interest in otherwise enjoyable activities
- Overindulgence in eating, alcohol consumption or TV watching
Because constant stress harms your body physically and affects your mental health, set aside time each day to discern your feeling. Daily self-awareness allows you to recognize stress patterns and prompts you to explore effective stress relievers.
Know and Use Your Best Stress Relievers
Holiday stress is inevitable, but you don’t have to let it overwhelm you. Dozens of activities, including exercise, socializing or writing, can relieve your stress.
For your mental health and physical wellbeing, identify the stress relievers that help you, and practice them regularly. Several suggestions include:
- Write in your journal or blog.
- Hike, swim or play basketball.
- Watch funny movies.
- Chat with a friend.
- Engage in a hobby like scrapbooking, fixing old cars or painting.
- Bake cakes or create your own soup recipes.
- Practice yoga or tai chi.
- Walk your dog.
- Read a book.
- Fill your home with lavender, citrus and other pleasant aromas.
- Attend religious services.
Address Family Challenges
You love your family and will likely see them this holiday season. Sometimes, though, family dynamics, ongoing tension, high expectations or differing personalities can increase your stress level.
Take care of yourself as you spend quality time with family when you address your unique challenges. Be honest about how you feel when you’re with your family then decide how to act.
- Discuss your time and energy limitations with your family and ask them to adjust traditions and expectations so you can participate.
- Limit family time if the interactions are too draining.
- Schedule video chats if you don’t have time for in-person visits.
- Commit to neutral conversations instead of discussing hurts, disappointments or other hot-button topics.
- Plan an exit strategy if you start to feel tired or emotions become heated.
With these steps, you enjoy your family and the holiday as you protect your mental health.
Connect With Support
You spend time around people all day as you provide care for your loved one. However, your interactions with medical professionals, grocery store clerks or insurance agents don’t typically offer you the meaningful friendship and fulfillment you need.
Be intentional about connecting with your support network every day. Call or text an understanding friend, see a professional therapist or log onto an online caregiver support network. These connections help you recharge, remind you to focus on your health and offer insight and solutions that assist you in addressing the specific challenges and stresses you face.
Hire or Ask for Help
Your never-ending to-do list includes everything from daily chores to holiday gift shopping. You know there’s no way you can complete everything on your list and maintain your sanity, so consider hiring or asking for help.
- Ask a friend to sit with your loved one for an hour while you shop.
- Hire a cleaning crew to make your house sparkle.
- Approach your siblings for assistance with the holiday meal or caregiving.
- Rally neighbors to winterize the house or decorate for the holiday.
Consider respite care for your loved one, too. An individual caregiver could take over your responsibilities for a few hours or you could utilize an adult day care center or other respite care program so you can take a break. With your free time, you can tackle your to-do list, spend time performing self-care and recharge.
Simplify Holiday Celebrations
Maybe you normally go all-out as you celebrate the holidays. Hanging lights, writing cards and baking cookies may feel overwhelming this year, though.
Let go of expectations and simplify your holiday celebrations. When you choose to do only the celebratory activities that truly bring you joy, you relieve unnecessary stress and still enjoy the season.
- Exchange holiday cards or e-greetings with a few close friends instead of everyone in your address book.
- Purchase the holiday meal instead of making everything from scratch.
- Decline a few party invitations and watch holiday films or home movies with your loved ones.
- Wrap presents with gift bags rather than paper.
- Give yourself permission to say no to activities that sap your energy or conflict with your priorities.
Start New Traditions
Maybe you always host the holiday brunch for your garden club or bake dozens of cookies for your neighborhood holiday block party. While these traditions are fun and make the holiday seem complete, they can also add stress to your schedule and life.
Think about starting new traditions this year. Maybe you could meet at a restaurant for your annual brunch or buy cookies for the neighbors. Share your ideas with your family and friends, explaining why you want to change this year. When you start new holiday traditions, you reduce stress while ensuring you still have time for the holiday activities and celebrations that bring you joy.
Stay in the Moment
With your long list of responsibilities, you may find yourself thinking about events, activities and obligations that will happen in the future. The result? You will feel frustrated, angry or overwhelmed.
Try focusing your mind on what is happening right now. Concentrate on how you feel, your posture and what you can gain and give in this very moment. As you stay in the moment, you focus better on the task at hand, discover joy and feel more relaxed.
Listen carefully to your mental self-talk and verbal conversations. Do you hear yourself complaining about your to-do list, responsibilities or inability to enjoy the holidays the way you want? Instead of focusing on your challenges, choose to exercise gratitude.
Gratitude reveals the big picture and all the positive aspects and reward of your life and service. Thankfulness also lowers your stress and boosts your resilience as you face challenges.
To practice gratitude and resist complaining, take several steps.
- Write a daily list of at least five things for which you are grateful.
- Try to catch yourself feeling grateful during the day.
- Share your gratitude list with a friend.
- Thank others with a handwritten note of gratitude or a short email that shares your appreciation for their ongoing support.
As you prepare for the holidays this year, consider ways you can handle common stresses in a healthy way. We also encourage you to reach out for help. Let us provide additional information on stress management or assist you in providing the care your loved one deserves.
Contact us today at (610) 269-2935 or fill out our online contact form to take advantage of our free in-home consultation. We look forward to supporting you in your caregiving role so you can experience less stress and enjoy the peace, joy and goodwill of this holiday season.