By Chris Burd, Masters Level Counseling Intern
We receive a lot of advice around the holiday season about simple ways to minimize stress. But let’s be honest: nothing about caregiving is simple.
There is also not a single profile of a “caregiver”. You are not alone as a caregiver, but you are unique. You might be caring for a child with special needs – whether that is a disability or a serious, acute illness. You may be caring for aging parents or an ailing spouse. Caregiving may be your full-time job, or you may be balancing a career and a family. We encourage you to share your story in the comments, along with the (not so) simple tips that have worked for you.
Here are just a few ideas to consider while you prepare for the stressful holiday season.
1. Ask For and/or Accept Help
Raise your hand if you are a caregiver who is tired of being told to ask for help. (I’m imagining that I can see the vast sea of raised hands.)
Caregivers are constantly being told to ask for help, as if it is the easiest and most obvious thing in the world. But asking for help is not easy, nor is it always particularly effective.
Offers for assistance will often come as vague statements such as “Let me know how I can help!” While well-meaning, that kind of offer can make you, as the caregiver, question the sincerity of the offer or feel added stress trying to figure out how to respond. In a perfect world, those offers would be more specific, but even if they aren’t, caregivers can prepare in advance to make the most of it.
Create a list of tasks that someone else could help you with – small and large.
Suggestion versus a direct request.
How we ask for help will differ depending on our relationship with the person that we’re asking. If a family friend with whom we’re not terribly close asks how they can help, you might make suggestions, such as:
- “If you make some extra Christmas cookies, it could save me from holiday baking!”
- “If you give me a call when you are running to the store, I might ask if you can pick up a couple of things.”
- “I could really use help putting up Christmas decorations outside, if you have a few hours this week.”
If you are talking to a close family member who is also invested in caring for your loved one, you could choose to word your requests in a more direct way:
- “Can you take Mom to her doctor’s appointment Friday, so that I don’t have to miss Bobby’s school chorus concert?”
- “I need someone to stay with your dad for an afternoon while I finish shopping for gifts.”
If you find it difficult to ask for help, practice. Literally practice saying the words. Consider asking via text or email if you find yourself particularly anxious to ask out loud. (The worst that can happen is that someone says that they can’t help.)
Ask for help for YOU.
We often think about the help that we need that is directly related to caring for a loved one, but what about help for ourselves, as caregivers? Consider asking a friend to find time to have lunch. Ask a loved one to text occasionally to check in on you. Ask your partner for a hug. Help comes in many forms.
2. Take Time for Yourself
If you just read that (not so) simple tip and thought, “How the *$%@ do I find time for myself?” – I get it. I’m a little bit annoyed at myself for including this one. But the truth is that it is so important that we need to be reminded, even when it seems impossible.
“Time for yourself” will look very different depending on your situation. For some, you may be able to schedule a few days to get away with your partner, your family, or on your own. You may be able to enlist another family member to care for your loved one for a weekend or you may take advantage of respite care while you get away.
A few days away may just not be feasible for you. Time for yourself might be running errands on your own with your favorite music or podcast playing in the car. It might be grabbing lunch with a friend. Or it might be a bubble bath after everyone else is asleep.
A dear friend caring for her adult son recently told me that she sat alone in her car for 15 minutes and cried while listening to the Sad Girl Autumn version of Taylor Swift’s All Too Well. It wasn’t much, but it was time that was just for her and it helped her to recenter.
3. Forgive Yourself if You Lack Holiday Joy
One of the hardest things about caregiving during the holidays is the feeling that everyone else is carefree and enjoying the holiday spirit, while you are struggling to keep a smile on your face. We feel obligated to feel happiness during the holidays—and when we don’t, we judge ourselves harshly.
You are not alone. While the holidays are filled with joy for many, many others struggle more during the holiday season than any other time of year. It is often our expectations that make us more miserable. We think it *should* be the most wonderful time of the year, and when that is not our experience, we find ourselves feeling even worse. We create a downward spiral for our own emotions.
Take a moment to remind yourself that you are not obligated to be happy. You are not required to be basking in holiday joy. If you remove the pressure to be happy, you can find more joy in little things – like a conversation about holiday traditions of the past, a quiet moment with a cup of hot cocoa, or the beauty of the holiday lights in your community.
Maybe you have children or others in your life for whom you want to create a joyful holiday—but set reasonable expectations for yourself. No one has a perfect holiday. Choose the traditions that matter the most. If you buy cookies from the grocery store or skip many of your decorations this year, that’s totally fine. Prioritize the things about the holiday that are most important to your family and just let the rest go.
Register and join us on Friday, December 10th at 1 PM ET for a free webinar (followed by Q&A) for caregivers, where we’ll dig into more tips for managing holiday stress. We would love to hear your stories, your ideas, your challenges, and your successes!
Register or join our mailing list, and we’ll also let you know about the launch of an upcoming caregiver support group, coming in early 2022.