Cheat Your Way to Less Holiday Stress, Caregivers

caregiver stress during holidays

Everybody experiences a spike in holiday stress to some degree. There is so much to do and a looming deadline. Behind all the Christmas cheer, there is that fear that the occasion will be a disaster and you will have to wait a whole year for your next chance. 

For caregivers, Christmas can bring a whole new level of anxiety. Not only are you in charge of shopping, budgeting, cooking, cleaning, wrapping, decorating, and scheduling--you have to care for an elderly adult who may or may not require most of your focus and energy. 

So how can you cheat yourself out of some holiday stress? By minimizing, prioritizing, and organizing. 

That may sound complex, but if you read on, you will see it can be easy!

1. Rearrange Your Spending, Make Less Work

Think about how much you are spending on each aspect of the holiday. Is it possible to go with less decor, and have a Christmas meal delivered to save yourself cooking time? 

Or, if cooking is your favorite part, and guests will be bringing side dishes and desserts, maybe you could cut back on some expenses and hire a cleaning service to get your house photo-op ready. 

Cut back a dollar or two per person on your gift list and hire someone to hang your outside lights. 

Maybe you didn't do everything by hand. But who says you have to? Its better to survive the holidays with a smile!

2. Minimize the Party

Do you feel obligated to throw a huge Christmas party and invite tons of people? The pressure to be the perfect host/hostess on top of all your other duties can really rattle your nerves. 

But ask yourself, do you really enjoy these huge events? Or do you just feel that you should invite everyone this year because you have done so in the past? 

Circumstances change. If you are hyperventilating over the thought of a holiday where you have to impress coworkers, friends, neighbors and family at the same time (while the Johnson children are breaking glass ornaments and tying knots in Grampa's oxygen hose) then it may be time to slash your guest list. 

Explain to those who are close to you why you are breaking tradition this year. If they are good friends/family members/colleagues, then they will understand. 

3. Go Disposable

Its not environmentally friendly, but opting for disposable items wherever possible can save you tons of stress and work. Paper plates, napkins and utensils are a good place to start. 

Also consider vinyl tablecloths and place mats, which are easier to wipe down. Throw-away aluminum pans are better than cleaning 20 pots and pans. 

Rather than putting the food on the table in serving dishes, leave it in the pans, and lay it out buffet fashion. Serving and cleaning those extra serving dishes are two tasks you can leave off your to-do list. 

Stock up on paper towels and antibacterial wipes for cleaning up messes, and have everyone write their name on a disposable cup rather than dealing with dirty (or potentially broken) glassware. 

It may not look as pretty in photographs, but in a few years, when you are looking back on this difficult time, you won't be looking at the table setting. 

4.  Enlist Help Before and After

Don't be shy about asking for help preparing your house for the holidays or cleaning it up after the big day. 

Guests, especially relatives, should pitch in and help wash dishes, pick up trash, and put things away. There is no reason why you can't make this a rule.

On the other hand, if you feel more stressed out about having someone put your stuff away in the wrong place, you can always politely decline offers of help. Or you can delegate other tasks. (For example, ask a sibling or friend to sit with your aging parent while you clean up.) 

Getting help on the front end might be even more helpful. For instance, you might send a list and some money with a friend who is going shopping, and save yourself at least one trip out for supplies. (and other errands too, such as mailing packages). 

A fabulous way to take a little stress out of the holiday is to make a good pot of coffee and invite friends or siblings over to help you with pre-holiday preparations. (cookie baking, decorating, etc.) Play some appropriate music, order a pizza, get your loved one involved...whatever it takes to get things done AND have fun at the same time. 

5. Limit Outside Obligations 

If you work, you may have invitations to holiday parties. If you are involved in church or volunteer work, you may be called on to help with all sorts of tasks. If you have kids, there may be Christmas plays, recitals, programs, etc. 

How can you possible be in so many places and still be a dutiful caregiver? You probably can't. So start bowing out of some of those events. 

Prioritize what it is most important to YOU, and be reasonable with what you can handle. Involve other family members too. Which events and traditions do you feel you MUST do this year in order to feel normal? 

5. Schedule Your Buffer Zone

Organizing your calendar can relieve your caregiving stress too. Schedule a buffer zone before and after Christmas to give yourself some respite. 

Get non-holiday stuff done now. Whatever you don't want to deal with during the actual holiday. Cancel or reschedule stuff that can wait, fill prescriptions if possible so you aren't spending Christmas Eve in the pharmacy, pre-write and schedule blog posts...

If your loved one is a long-term care facility, make arrangements early for a day-pass to bring them home from the holidays. 

Pay bills a little early. 

And don't move a bunch of stuff to the day after Christmas. Give yourself at least a week to recover, put things away at leisure, and relax. 

Caregiver Stress Tips from Very Stressed Caregivers

Need some more ideas? Here are some tips from some overworked and under-appreciated caregivers on beating the holiday blues: 

  • Designate an unused room for overflow. Whatever I don't want to deal with now goes in there until I am ready to tackle it. Out of sight, off my stress list. 

  • Hire a pet sitter. Taking care of my aging dog (and his accidents) who is snappy now that his eyesight is gone is hard enough during the non-holiday season, especially while caring for my mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer's.  Afraid my dog might bite a guest or piddle on the presents, I arranged for him to spend the day with his favorite pet sitter. 

  • Uninvite non-related children. I hated to do this, because I love lots of kids in the house, but they agitate my father and he sometimes lashes out at them. We had only his grandchildren present, which cut out a lot of stress and worry, because they are used to his behaviors. 

  • Use professional services. We hired a home care companion for our three day Christmas. (my mom is very high-needs right now) We really made her part of our family while she was helping us, and she is still my mom's favorite non-family carer when we need extra help. 

  • All plastic! We left our best decor in boxes and opted for all plastic this year. It wasn't as fancy, but we didn't have to worry about my grandfather knocking over a display table with his wheelchair. Last year we spent most of our time protecting baubles and pretty much had no fun. 

  • Have Christmas where your loved one is most comfortable. My dad feels safer in the nursing home. So last year, we decided to stop bringing him home, where he was anxious and lost. It was a great Christmas, and we will do it again this year. 

  • Take a break from worrying about your weight. I got so, so tired of all the caregiver advice at the holidays being about eating and exercise. All I do all year is worry about diet plans and nutrition and exercise for me, my family and my elderly parents.  So I decided three years ago to just not care at Christmas what I eat. Its a few days a year, and it hasn't set me back at all.

So What's the Best Way to Cheat Yourself to Less Caregiver Stress? 

To quote a Disney movie..."Let it go!" 

  • If you can't do it, then don't. 

  • If you don't want to do it, then don't. 

Let go of the idea of a Pinterest perfect Christmas. Put up your tree, buy a few gifts, spend time with the people you love the most and enjoy this Christmas. As caregivers, we all know that every holiday could be the last one we are allowed to spend with our loved ones. So make the most of the people you have with you, and don't worry about making impressions on the outside world.