The holidays are known for being a special time for family get-togethers to reconnect with loved ones and old friends. Many family caregivers, however, struggle between the lofty notion of bygone holidays recreated and the current reality of whether this is really in the best interest of their aging parent(s) – or frankly, themselves!
Multi-generational holiday celebrations are what make memories so special, but the mixed emotions of being thankful that your aging parent will be sharing the holidays with you, coupled with the anticipated challenges that family caregivers can feel around the holiday, may easily exacerbate holiday stress levels. Early identification of the signs of stress and proactively finding ways to prevent it from overwhelming you are the best ways to help ensure that everyone has a fun and festive holiday season.
Signs and symptoms of holiday caregiver stress and burnout
Recognizing the signs and triggers can help you to put a plan in place to alleviate—and hopefully, avoid—unnecessary stress and potential burnout.
Becoming short-tempered. Are your 'buttons' being pushed even with unimportant things?
- Feeling inadequate, depressed. Do you find yourself questioning your caregiving abilities?
- Thinking negatively. Are you often focusing on the negative rather than the positive?
- Not taking care of yourself. Are you having trouble sleeping, avoiding exercise, and eating poorly?
- Feeling overwhelmed. Do you find it hard to focus or function throughout your day?
8 questions and solutions for preventing family caregiver holiday stress
If you’re recognizing signs of stress in yourself—or want to be sure to prevent them—consider these questions and practical solutions to common holiday situations:
- What will you need to do to be sure your loved one is safe and calm? Planning ahead for their arrival can help. Having guests in your home, even in the best of times, can add to stress levels. If your parent or relative is coming to stay with you during the holidays, consider a home health company like BAYADA to help provide personal care, meal prep, personal care needs, transportation, or even a companion to help combat isolation and loneliness.
- Is the holiday party at your home or have you accepted an invitation elsewhere? If it's not in your home, do you know if there will there be a large crowd or many strangers at the invitees' home? Will their house be totally unfamiliar to your parent which could cause anxiety? Try to prepare your loved ones for events outside of their normal routine--it can help to reduce their anxiety and the worry and stress you may be experiencing. If your loved one already has home care, bring their aide along—surely her mere presence and ability to assist your mom or dad with their normal daily tasks will be a stress reducer.
- Will there be a great deal of noise and stimulation? Will there be a lot of children running around making it difficult to tolerate for someone with even mild dementia? BAYADA caregivers have knowledge of caring for aging loved ones who may have dementia, anxiety, or other challenging ailments.
- If you are hosting, what is a good time of day for mom or dad? When are they at their best and worst? Is your emotional desire to have them at the holiday table in their best interest? As much as possible, plan your activities and events so they coincide with your loved one’s schedule and capabilities to withstand a change to their routine.
- Will you be able to delegate a family member to help keep a watchful eye on them? Are they incontinent and need ongoing bathroom reminders and assistance? Can they successfully navigate a buffet, hold a plate, or drink comfortably? Are there any dietary restrictions? Don't be afraid to ask for help. Whether it's a family member, friend, or outside personal care assistance, you owe it to yourself and those around you to also be mindful of your needs.
- Where will they be seated? It's important to allow them to have the mobility to leave the table if needed. However, if they are seated at the end of the table, be sure they can be engaged in the larger group discussion.
- Does mom or dad need transportation? How will they get to your house and how will they get home? If they live locally, set up transportation ahead of time. Determine the usual duration of your holiday party and how many hours mom or dad can really tolerate. Be sure their transportation allows for provisions to bring them home if it gets too much and if they get anxious.
- Does it make sense to have a professional home health aide? Added pressure for caregivers who already have tight schedules, including work, family, meal prep, and shopping, can all lead to holiday stress levels. BAYADA Home Health Aides can help handle potential challenges, allowing you to just enjoy being the host and helping to relieve some of this stress.
Reset expectations for a low-stress celebration
If, after weighing all your options and deciding that it’s not feasible to have your parent attend the big family celebration consider a low-key, scaled back celebration. Instead of cooking all your favorite recipes, perhaps you can ask your family and friends to bring their favorite holiday dish so you don’t have to make as much. Or cut back on the guest list and just invite those closest to you for a more intimate gathering.
Don’t think of it as giving up or giving in. Instead, embrace it as an opportunity to give your loved one your full attention. Reminisce about old times, bring out old photo albums or family movies. Eat delicious leftovers and make a new low-stress tradition!
originally published November 2021
updated March 2022