For many caregivers, the holidays can be not just stressful but downright overwhelming — and that’s on an average year. As we face a holiday season amid a global pandemic, an already difficult season is feeling even more complex to navigate for many.
People caring for an older family member frequently feel that the typical stressors of the holidays can be amplified by feelings of loss, struggles to negotiate changing family traditions, and pressures to participate in holiday activities (physically distanced or otherwise!) when their time is already stretched beyond thin.
For anyone who needs to hear it this year, yes, it’s okay to just focus on surviving this holiday season. Here are some practical tips for doing just that.
- Set a realistic list of priorities. While restrictions on gatherings and events might mean that your calendar is a little less full than it often is this time of year, the festive season can still feel overwhelmingly busy. Try writing down the 3-5 holiday traditions that are most important to you (and can be done safely) and focus on those.
- Communicate honestly about why you are doing things differently this year. Imagine that one of your good friends says to you, “Hey, I’m spending a lot of time looking after my family member this year, and I know that we like to do a gift exchange, but I’m trying to manage my energy, can we skip it this year?” Would you a) immediately stop speaking to them, b) demand they participate regardless of how they are feeling, or c) offer your support and let them know that it is totally understandable that they are doing their best to look after themselves. By being open and honest about responsibilities, priorities and energy levels you position yourself to receive the compassion that you would likely very gladly provide to others.
- Set aside some “do nothing time.” Whether it is a weekend, a day, or an hour, integrate downtime into your holiday plans. Depending on where you are in your caregiving journey this may mean making alternate plans for the person you are providing care for (see below).
- Ask for help. That might mean speaking to family members and friends about how they can support you in your caregiving this holiday season. Given current COVID restrictions, this might mean asking for heat and serve meals, help with grocery shopping or even a listening ear. Perhaps that means hiring a home support provider to come in to help.
- Get support. Sometimes speaking with a family member or friend about what you are feeling can help. There are also more formal supports available – consider reaching out through your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you have access to one through your employer benefits package, scheduling an appointment with a counsellor, or reaching out to an organization like Family Caregivers of British Columbia or the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
- Manage feelings of loneliness. The holidays can feel isolating or lonely for many people, particularly this year. Learn more about managing feelings of loneliness, here.
- Allow yourself to not be in the holiday spirit. If you are feeling that the best you can do is to aim to get through the holidays rather than enjoy them, that is okay. Allow yourself the space you need to feel a little bit grinchy. Taking the pressure off yourself to be merry, joyous and bright can help make the season more bearable.