For caregivers, the holiday season can be a wonderful time of year to participate in carols, cookie baking or decorations. Amid all of this excitement, anxieties and stressors of the day-to-day provider responsibilities remain and sometimes become heightened amid new holiday events or factors. To help avoid the end-of-year-stress, follow our staff’s ten caregiver tips.

1. Focus on What’s Most Important

While you might have a million tasks at hand (and wrapping presents just became one of them), it’s okay to hone in on your key priorities. Keep basics like maintaining a safe environment, ensuring basic needs are met and keeping up on telehealth appointments. It’s okay for other holiday “essentials” to take a backseat in your overall approach. It doesn’t always mean no, but it may mean you have to say “not now.”

2. Simplify Your Holiday Game Plan

Look at your daily routine. Identify places where your schedule may be causing you, or those in your care, additional stress. While regular activities and social gatherings provide positive interactions, you may need to limit involvement during the holiday season (whether for yourself or your loved one). Setting boundaries and simplifying your approach will lessen opportunities for increased anxiety.

3. Understand Your Limits

This is one of our most common pieces of advice for caregivers—it’s okay to admit that you can’t do it all. You’re not superhuman—no one expects you to be! Just as your job requires you to be patient with those you care for, be patient with yourself and realistic in what you personally expect of your role. 

4. Recognize What You Can and Can’t Control

Supporting older loved ones, especially those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, can be full of unexpected events. Certain behaviors or triggers can’t always be planned for. This can include agitation, aggression, sudden depression or sleep disturbance. Recognizing that not everything is in your control is a valuable coping strategy, whether during the holiday season or in the middle of summer. Focus on doing the best you can and addressing disruptions as they come.

5. Arrange for Additional Support

It’s okay to ask for extra help, and luckily for caregivers, there are various networks to rely on. First, don’t be afraid to talk to a local senior living community and their expert staff. Often, the teams on-site will be able to provide you with insight on how to address certain concerns during the holiday season.

If you need to take some time off (for self-care or personal needs), plan for someone to take over your position. For the best results, make sure it’s someone that your loved one is familiar and comfortable with. Taking time for yourself during the holiday season can be one of the best ways to recharge and recoup for the coming year.

6. Watch for Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorders

Even if you don’t typically suffer from any severe mental health disorders, it’s wise to be on the lookout for signs of Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD). SAD is “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons [and] begins and ends at about the same times every year… If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.”

If you begin to feel increasingly stressed or anxious, lose interest in your regular activities or struggle with eating, sleeping or concentration, it may be time to reach out for help. Doctors, therapists or clinical psychologists can help you learn personal coping mechanisms or identify the appropriate treatment for your situation.

7. Set Healthy Boundaries with Family Members.

The family’s coming into town! Or you might be hopping on a family Zoom gathering. Isn’t that exciting? Well, in some cases, it might not be. 

Caregivers are in a unique position of supporting a loved one when their family or friends cannot. Those same close relations may have opinions on caregiving. While some of their advice or thoughts may have merit, it’s important to understand that they’re not professional caregivers. Setting healthy boundaries within your conversations will help reduce potential stress. Politely change the subject when receiving unwarranted advice, and suggest chatting at a separate time. 

8. Practice Self-Care

This is one of the most essential caregiver tips for avoiding stress—remember self-care.

The art of self-care is different for everyone. For some, it might mean a long-overdue bubble bath, a glass of wine and a good book to read. For another, it could mean taking a hike or working out. Whatever your favorite form of self-care is, be diligent in carving out time to address your needs during the holidays. While this time of the year is often about giving, you need to remember that does include giving back to yourself. The responsibilities of caregiving are demanding. It’s important to step away for some “me time” every once in a while.

9. Plan for Triggers

Throughout the holidays, there may be specific events or actions that can trigger unexpected or unwanted behaviors with the individuals you care for. You can plan ahead to eliminate these potential triggers, whether through a schedule or process. This can include but is not limited to avoiding over-stimulating activities or making sure conversation strays away from painful holiday memories. The end of the year isn’t always happy for everyone. Those in your care may not be suited to regular holiday celebrations.

10. Start Your Own Traditions

If we could offer just one piece of advice for caregivers struggling with the holidays, it’s to let go of expectations or what you think the holidays need to look like. 

This is your opportunity to create a special time of year for both yourself and the loved ones in your care. Whether you’re celebrating a specific holiday, or just making these few months extra special, ensure that you’re doing what you and your loved ones want, not what’s expected.

Remember that you can create new holiday traditions to suit your needs or adjust to your current situation. You’re in a demanding role, caring for a loved one with specific requirements. It’s fine if you let go of traditions that don’t serve your current household. 

Use these ten caregiver tips to avoid stress and embrace this time of year.