Episode 89: Caregiver Holiday Survival

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Show Notes

The holidays are extremely stressful for caregivers. People expect you to do the things you’ve always done. Maybe you’re the pie person but this year you just can’t make any pies. Maybe you host the holiday dinners or parties and that feels impossible to do. You can’t do any more than you already are but at the same time you don’t want to miss out on the fun everyone else will be having. 

Let’s talk about how to survive the holidays. 

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a caregiver for a long time or you’ve just become one this year, it can really put a damper on the holiday spirit. I’m not just talking about the holidays at the end of the year but any cause for celebration with your family and friends. What once use to be moments you looked forward to are now the things you dread because you just can’t show up as the person you used to be. Caregiving transformed you into the person you are now and most people in your life might not be completely aware of that transformation.

Once the next holiday comes near you begin to dread having to make those pies or host those parties. You’re too tired and overwhelmed by caregiving to even know how to problem solve and have the conversation with your loved ones to give some of your duties over to another person and lighten the load a little or all the way. 

Here’s what you can do…

You need to start off with setting boundaries for the holidays. Take a moment to write down the things you usually do or anticipate being asked to do. Be very realistic and decide on what you can actually do. Maybe you can’t make all 10 pies but can make one. Or maybe your family can use your house for dinner because they love the house or need the space. They have to be in charge of it all from the organization to the clean up in the end. Or. maybe your loved one is in the middle of chemo treatments and can’t really be around a big group of people but you still want to be part of the celebration. I’ll put the PDF link in the show notes that has many ways you can still be part of the fun from the safety of your home. 

Decide what you can and can’t do this year before talking to anyone about it. Also decide what your emotional marker is for when you have to step back. It could be possible that you don’t have to do a lot of physical work during the holidays but it takes a lot of emotional energy. Decide how much of that emotional energy you can give this year and stick to it. Decide how you will deal with that person who always pushes your buttons or how much you can actually give to any drama. Do the same with the person you care for. Are they living with Dementia or Alzheimer’s? Set boundaries that keep them safe no matter what the other people there will think. Speak to the host ahead of time so they understand their needs and support you. Is sitting for too long stressful for your spouse? Is loud noise too much for your child? Ask yourself what everyone would need in order to enjoy the gathering and then be ok with needing to leave early. 

Accept that you can’t do everything. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a caregiver for a while or a new one we have the tendency to want to make it seem like we have it all under control. We don’t! Actually most adults don’t. But we all try to pretend we do, especially for the holidays. 

You don’t have the energy to keep up appearances. Ask for the help you need. Not only do you give yourself a break and the possibility of enjoying some of the season with the person you care for but you also allow someone in your life to have a better understanding of how difficult caregiving can be and give them an opportunity to feel good about helping someone. Don’t know what to ask someone to help you with? What feels like the biggest issue right now? Is it putting together a holiday meal because you can’t get together with family this year? Can’t make your share of the cookies for the exchange? Want to decorate but your husband was the one that always brought down the decorations and he can’t right now? Ask for that help. Do not do it all on your own. Holidays create more tasks and more stress at a time when you should really be enjoying the time with the people you have around you, especially the person you care for. 

You also need to learn how to say no. I get it, it’s hard. Especially if you have someone in your life that is really good at making you feel bad about not doing something you usually do for a get together. I promise you as hard as it might be the first couple of times you will enjoy not having to put in the time to do that thing because you probably don’t have extra time anyway. If you do find a spare moment grab two cookies and sit next to the person you care for and savor the moment. 

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to enjoy a holiday sometimes? Everyone is so invested in doing it all but not actually enjoying the time they have together. As a caregiver you understand the importance of time together a little more than others. You also understand how much it hurts to feel like everyone is having fun without you. Don’t wait to be invited to the fun! If someone is hosting a dinner or party and they haven’t really invited you even though you usually go, ask them about it.  They might be thinking about how tired you are or how difficult things have been for you this year and didn’t want to stress you out anymore. They might not realize that not inviting you actually made things worse than better. Or maybe you’d like to be part of the celebration but you can’t physically be there. Don’t automatically think you can’t. We all know how to do video calls and Zoom so there’s no excuse to not make an appearance. We are all used to holidays being a certain way so when something changes it’s easy to just cut it out of the plans but it’s always possible to make some changes and do things differently.

It’s important to realize that holidays will be different once you are a caregiver. Maybe the health of the person you care for has changed since last year or the year has really worn you out. Do your best to accept that things are different. You already know that your life has changed even if you haven’t stopped to notice how much it has. So naturally a holiday might need to look a little different as well. The important thing is that you have the person you care for with you to celebrate with. You can have fun making new traditions and own your fun. Christmas dinner in pajamas instead of an uncomfortable dress? Yes please! Celebrate Hanukkah in bed, why not? Cookies for the nurses at the hospital because you can’t make it to the cookie exchange? I’m sure they’d love it. 

Remember to give yourself a break. One of the most difficult things about caregiving is you are living a life you never planned on. It can feel lonely, it can make you angry and sometimes you just wish things were different. The holidays can be difficult and emotional times for a lot of people and can highlight the difficulty of caregiving even more. On top of that you can find yourself burdened by all the extra things you need to do to celebrate the season only to find yourself rolled up into a ball hoping to wake up when it’s all over. It doesn’t have to be that way. 

Slow things down and give yourself extra time to get things done when you feel this way. What sense does it make to fail at enjoying a holiday because you are trying to do everything you should be doing for that holiday? 

Focus on why you are a caregiver and it will help bring everything into perspective. Why are you a caregiver? Most likely the focus is to help a person through life with a disease or disability. Remembering why you’re a caregiver will help you set those boundaries, allow you to say no to things with confidence and make celebrating a priority. 

Remember everything you see online is a person’s highlight reel. It’s just the fun moments and the things they want you to see. Don’t compare your life to what you see online. It’s normal to feel that jealousy when you hear about the thing you couldn’t go to or see pictures of friends having dinner at the restaurant you love. It’s also ok to feel sad. Holidays make it very apparent that things are different now. You might not have realized how different things are until a holiday made you notice what you just can’t do anymore. Or maybe you worry that this is the last of this holiday you’ll celebrate with the person you care for. These are really real and difficult emotions brought on during an equally difficult and emotional time of the year. Talk to someone about how your feeling and if it feels like it’s just too much, reach out to a therapist or someone in your community that is better qualified to help you through things. There are also hotlines and website chats you can go to when things feel heavier than you can handle. I’ll leave those numbers in the show notes of this episodes on the website. Remember you’re human and there is only so much we can all do on our own. 

We can enjoy the holidays. As caregivers we have to learn to ask for help and accept that things need to be different. However, setting boundaries and finding ways to have fun and enjoy this time with our loved one along with family and friends is really what the holidays are all about. Let it be messy and imperfect. Let go of expectations, obligations and guilt.

Find the things you like the most about the holidays and find ways to have fun doing those things with the person you care for. 

Enjoy your holiday.

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