Tips for Caregivers to Deal with Holiday Stress

Elizabeth Miller started her online community after years of taking care of two chronically ill parents who lived six hours away.

A classic sandwich generation member, Elizabeth “was stressed, overwhelmed and often felt like I was suffocating by my never-ending to-do lists” as she tried to juggle caregiving, a full-time job and her own family’s needs. Her stress levels really headed north as she prepared for Christmas. “The holidays are wonderful, but they can really ramp up the pressure you’re already under,” Elizabeth says. “You have to admit to yourself that something has got to give. I liked things to be a certain way. When you’re in the intensity of being a family caregiver you have to make some choices. And that’s an important lesson to tell yourself year-round.”

Here, Elizabeth shares three tips for caregivers to follow for a happy, healthy holiday. (See Happy Healthy Caregiver resources at the end of this post.)

1. Keep It Simple

My kids are teenagers now, and this won’t work with young children, but our stockings hold our primary gifts and each person is responsible for filling one person’s. We draw names and have a $200 allowance, so usually gifts are spilling out around the stocking, too.

I used to stuff everyone’s stocking and it was a lot of work to find little items – and it added up cost-wise. This way, the stockings are a real surprise for everyone. We take turns opening the gifts to make it last.

The best new holiday decoration is the staked laser light that projects holiday images all over the house. It’s a great way to feel decorated without spending hours stringing lights.

I have a large, growing family; my siblings all have kids. Several years ago we talked and decided to simplify our holidays. We only buy birthday and Christmas gifts when we are going to physically be with our nieces and nephews on Christmas or on their birthday, and we don’t buy cards. We call instead.

2. Figure Out What Matters

Ask each member of your family to identify the one holiday tradition they can’t live without – the one activity that makes the holiday hit home – and then honor that. For my daughter, it’s making a gingerbread house. We bought a kit because it seems silly to spend time you don’t have making gingerbread you don’t eat, and we had a great time.

For two years, we planned a family trip as our gift. We went to Italy over Thanksgiving last year and spent Christmas at the movies. And you don’t have to spend that much. You could do a weekend trip or buy tickets to an event.

3. They’ll Eat What You Give Them

As a caregiver, the constant issue is time. If you are a gourmet cook, then maybe the prep time is worth it to you. But I’ve learned that they’ll eat what you put in front of them.

My mother was a fabulous cook and went all out during the holidays. But she was in the kitchen the whole time, and I remember thinking that when I got older, I was going to be out with the people playing games and having fun.

Before the holiday, I call my family and guests and ask what they would like to bring. Then I fill in around that.

I buy Ore Ida frozen potatoes and use those for our mashed potatoes. You can easily dress up a bagged salad with some dried cranberries or pomegranate seeds. And I don’t make a ton of side dishes. You always come away stuffed between appetizers, desserts, and the main meal.

Resources for Happy, Healthy Caregiving

  • Visit Elizabeth’s online forum to see posts from family caregivers who have joined her support network, tips on a wide range of caregiving-related topics and other resources.
  • Join Elizabeth’s Facebook group here.
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