Caregiving and the Holidays

family gathered around older man about to make a wish over a birthday cake

As a family caregiver, whether you are a spouse, partner, adult child, or friend, you know the journey is not an over-and-done scenario—it’s a marathon. The key to a successful marathon is planning, preparing, and pacing. This applies especially to special occasions, which typically take more thought and energy.

Care partners, this is your opportunity to prioritize your health and needs, as well as those of the person in your care. This isn’t always comfortable, but it’s key to making the holidays (as well as the day-to-day) less stressful and more joyful.

Let’s explore some tips for making the holidays merry, bright, healthy, and relatively stressless for everyone. Putting these tips into practice will help you recognize and change stress-induced habits and integrate some self-care behaviors into your caregiving routine:

  • Focus on what’s most important to you. While keeping traditions and hosting large gatherings are lovely in concept, what’s most important to you? Time together is the objective. What modifications can you make to still have a celebratory time with family and friends without the added stress? What gives you and the person in your care the most meaning? How can you simplify your plans and enjoy what truly matters?
  • Adjust expectations accordingly and ask for help. Be realistic and honest with yourself. If you’ve always hosted the main meal and prepared everything, is this realistic in the context of caregiving responsibilities? Would a potluck work better, with family and friends helping with the menu, set up, and cleaning? Consider a meal at a restaurant or another location an option. Would a smaller gathering with treats and coffee work just as well as a full meal? How about a holiday movie night instead? Look at it as creating new traditions and equally wonderful ways to be together.
  • Make time for laughter. Humor can be a great stress reliever, as well as a great way to bond and make lasting memories. Find opportunities to laugh often during the holidays. Does your family have a favorite holiday movie comedy you can enjoy together? Read the Mayo Clinic’s “Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke!” Do you enjoy playing games? Try a holiday-themed game of charades! Sing-alongs are good for all ages, too.
  • Use the buddy system. Plan ahead to have family and friends take turns being the buddy for the person in your care. This is a great way to encourage one-on-one time as well as minimize any holiday stress the person in your care may experience. It also provides a break for the primary caregiver. This break is a beautiful gift to both the caregiver and the “buddy.” If the person in your care has paid caregivers in their own home or resides in a senior living community, think about what they can manage and sustain. It may be more realistic for your loved one to attend a portion of the gathering and then return to their familiar routine.
  • We can typically always find something to be thankful for. What is that for you? There is always something to be thankful for: a baby’s giggles, a beautiful sunrise, a fresh pot of coffee brewing. Sometimes gratitude takes practice, but it is a proven stressbuster and can positively affect your health. It changes your perspective and helps you see that there is always some good in life, even in tough times. To help you focus on the positive moments, jot down three things you’re grateful for, do a quick gratitude exercise, or tell someone why you’re grateful for them.

“Caregiving is stressful, difficult, and rewarding work,” reflects my colleague Lisa Mayfield, founder of Aging Wisdom. “With some thoughtful planning, you can take a lot of stress out of the holidays as well as invest in your own health. Remember—your health is as important as that of the person you are caring for. If you’re not healthy, you can’t be your best for your loved one.”

Nicole KaneContributor Nicole Amico Kane, MSW, LICSW, CMC, is the Director of Care Management for Aging Wisdom, an Aging Life Care® practice serving King and south Snohomish Counties.

This article appeared in the December 2023 issue of AgeWise King County.