6 Ways Caregivers Can Beat Holiday Fatigue
The holiday season can be both the best and worst time of the year, especially if you are caring for an aging loved one. Between the gifts, the food, the gatherings, and the travel, you’ll most likely be feeling a mix of emotions: happy to spend time and celebrate with your loved ones, and completely exhausted from keeping up with the social calendar and expectations.
Through all the hustle and bustle, it’s important to prioritize your aging loved one as well as your own mental and physical health. After all, you can’t care for someone to the best of your ability if you’re not taking care of yourself first. The following tips are a great start at battling holiday-induced fatigue.
1. Just Say No (to a Few Things)
This is probably the most difficult thing to do during the holiday season, when you have numerous lovely invitations coming to you and your loved one. There are grandchildren to see, kids to visit, church parties to attend, neighbors to share gifts with. Everyone loves celebrating the holidays with people they care about. However, you must be realistic and know that there is no way you can say yes to everyone and everything. Don’t be afraid to decline an invitation with regrets; you can make a plan to get together once the holidays have passed and things settle down.
2. Remember: “Good Enough” is Great
Likewise, make sure you are operating under realistic expectations. If you are particularly busy or having a rough week, nothing is wrong with taking store-bought cookies to a party, rather than baking them from scratch. Gift cards make great gifts if you don’t have time to go to the mall, or you can take advantage of online shopping from the convenience of home (some sites will even gift wrap and ship directly to a recipient). Remember the true reason behind holiday celebrations, knowing that in 10 years, people won’t remember the dish you brought to a potluck, but will remember getting to see you and your loved one in person.
3. Don’t Stray Too Far from Routine
If you see that your week is particularly busy or off the normal routine, you should consider the impact on your loved one as well. Many people with dementia do better when they have a dependable, regular routine; too much change can make them feel anxious and agitated. Traveling longer distances in the car also is often hard on a senior, and they may feel uncomfortable in unfamiliar settings. They may worry about being able to get around a relative’s house (for example, being able to get to a restroom when they need it).
Hopefully you are able to have an honest conversation with your loved one where they can share concerns with you; if they have advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s, you may simply have to pay closer attention to their actions and attitudes throughout the day. If you see them struggling emotionally, excuse yourself and head home, knowing that people that truly care should be understanding. Statistically, they will probably have to deal with a similar situation themselves in the future, if they aren’t already.
4. Don’t Let Your Diet Get (too far) Off Track
The holidays are the perfect time for a little indulgence. Desserts, special meals, and holiday treats are always around you; it’s tempting to completely abandon your regular diet plans. However, remember that as a caregiver, your health will have an impact on your loved one’s life as well.
Be sure to drink plenty of water, go easy on the sweets and baked goods, and limit your alcohol intake. Be sure to get regular exercise, remembering the difference between being busy and being physically active. Your day might be filled with parties and events but that doesn’t mean your body doesn’t need true exercise. Try to set aside time for it, for both you and your loved one, even if it’s a simple walk around the neighborhood, or simple stretching exercises. (Check out this blog post for more great ideas on staying active during the winter.)
5. Look to the Future
The holidays are often busy but enjoyable, with your loved one getting to see friends and family he or she hasn’t seen in months or years. The days may quickly fill up with fun activities, parties, and visits. However, the let-down after holidays can foster the “winter blues.” Fight this by planning something fun or special (even if it’s smaller in scale) that your loved one can look forward to in the near future, after the holidays.
Whether it’s a small day trip to a place your loved one enjoys, having a local friend or neighbor over for tea or to play cards, or even a phone call with a long-distance friend or relative, getting something on the calendar gives you all something to look forward to.
6. Get Help if You Need It
If you are the primary caregiver, hopefully you already have a support system in place to give you a break when you need it. Again, since your loved one depends so fully on you, it’s important that your own health is in top shape, both physically and mentally. Everyone needs some personal time to run errands, exercise, relax, or just decompress.
This is especially true during and after the holidays. Be sure to plan for someone – whether it’s another family member, a friend, or a hired professional – to come on a regular basis to give you a break now and then. Even an hour or two a week can make a big difference to your mental state; you’ll be surprised by how much more effectively you manage stress in daily tasks when you’ve had a chance to recharge your own batteries.
Bottom line: Strive to keep perspective this holiday season. If you sense yourself feeling overly stressed by a busy schedule, know that your loved one is probably feeling it to. Why not make life a bit easier on you both by scaling back as needed? Use it as an opportunity to get together with loved ones later in the year, and don’t feel bad about inviting people to come to you to visit. Don’t feel guilty about doing what’s best for your loved one and yourself; it makes everyone involved healthier and happier in the long run.