Coping Tools for the Holiday Season

By Valerie
November 26, 2010

I’ve developed a new philosophy… I only dread one day at a time.” — Charlie Brown

For caregivers, the holidays are often a particularly stressful time of year.

Coming face to face with the changes in their loved one’s life is hard enough. Add in gift buying, decorating and entertaining on top of caregiving responsibilities and it’s no wonder caregivers feel overwhelmed.

Part of the angst is uncertainty or knowing what’s possible to celebrate the holiday season with frail and aging loved ones in a significant and meaningful way. At the same time, caregivers want to do the best for their loved ones and tend to maintain unreasonably high expectations.

If the very notion of the holiday season is sapping your joy, read on:

Doing it ALL really does make it worse: Sometimes we do things simply because we always have. If you’ve been in charge of the holiday gathering, give yourself permission to ask for help with your holiday to do list. What’s really important is finding a way to enjoy the holidays without burning out.

Nobody likes a grumpy elf: Elves don’t get grumpy unless they take on too much work in Santa’s workshop. When you feel the stress lurking behind you, stop and reassess. In fact, take the time right now to decide which holiday traditions you must continue and which one can be crossed off. To help you decide, ask yourself, “Would the holidays be the same without a tradition, is there something you want to do differently, do you do it out of habit, choice or obligation and can the job be shared?”

Plan ahead with other family members: If you have family travelling to see loved ones, it’s important to have a conversation about the physical and cognitive changes Mom and Dad have experienced. Discuss the holiday schedule as it relates to your aging loved one. Consider their physical stamina and cognitive abilities. If aging loved ones tire easily or are experiencing cognitive decline, limit the number of activities and the length of time they are included. The noise and confusion of a large family gathering or community event can lead to irritability, undesired behaviour or exhaustion.

Out with the old, in with the new: There’s nothing wrong with creating new traditions if it means your aging loved one can take pleasure in the holidays and be an active participant. It’s OK to be like Charlie Brown but try not to dwell too much on “all that’s been lost.” It can be emotionally draining for yourself and those closest to you.

A little R&R goes a long way: Ask family or friends to provide respite care or give your aging loved one a change of scenery. Making time for you can be as simple as enjoying holiday decorations with family or taking a tour of the neighbourhood lights.

The holidays are always a dervish whirlwind and this holds true for caregivers.

The balance scale is going to fluctuate between caring for loved ones and caring for oneself; between loving memories of past holidays and some sadness in remembering loss of loved ones.

Be kind to yourself this holiday season.
Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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