Caregiver Coping: How to Adjust Your Expectations for the Holidays

senior man and caregiver wearing santa hats.

In her article, Caregiving During the Holidays: Have a Realistic & Positive Approach, author andeldercare consultant, Carol Bradley Bursack, describes a scenario that many caregivers can identify with.

She says, “There’s an image of holiday perfection that our culture encourages. Starting with Thanksgiving, we are inundated with images of families happily enjoying each other’s company during a holiday meal. Most of us have memories from our childhood that feed this desire for Norman Rockwell-esque celebrations. Even those who didn’t have these picture-perfect experiences growing up often strive to create them with their own families.

“However, few of us can measure up to the fantasy – caregivers least of all. The vast majority of advertisements, music and blockbuster movies sugarcoat the holidays and shirk the reality that most of us face. These images feed expectations that are impossible to meet.”

Says Sara J. Thompson, Executive Director at Saunders House in Wynnewood, PA, “Thus, if you are a caregiver attempting to create the perfect holiday for everyone in your life, take a deep breath and let go. It is crucial to realize that none of us are perfect and that attempts to create the ideal holiday are likely doomed to failure and disappointment for any caregiver.

“You’re already very busy as a caregiver, and there is even more to do during the holidays. Therefore, start by being realistic. You’re not superhuman, and no one expects you to be!

“Next, reset your expectations as a caregiver to focus on those things that have the most meaning and value to you and your loved ones during the holiday season.

“The good news is that there are steps you can take to simplify the coming holidays while still keeping the season happy and festive.”  

Caregiver Tips to Adjust Your Expectations for the Holidays

According to various caregiver resources, there are many things you can do to make this holiday less stressful and more joyful. For example:

  1. Focus on the things that have the most meaning –Instead of trying to “do it all” and failing, busy caregivers should focus on those holiday activities that provide them and their loved ones with the most satisfaction. Try prioritizing your holiday activities based on what you feel is most meaningful (e.g. family togetherness, giving, music, faith, etc.) and best embodies the holiday spirit.

  2. Keep it simple – You’re already a busy caregiver, so as you prioritize your holiday focus, it also makes sense to cut a few corners when you can. For example, you can simplify your usual preparations by limiting the number of home decorations – inside and outside – cutting back on holiday travel, sending fewer cards or supplementing your handwritten cards to special friends and family with e-cards to those you aren’t as close to.

  3. Modify your holiday meal strategy –Meal preparation for the holidays can be an all-encompassing event, even for those who aren’t caregivers. Therefore, consider purchasing your holiday meal from a grocery store or restaurant or paying someone to cook your meal in your home.  Remember, your time is money and more free time is worth it.

  4. Streamline your shopping –Busy holiday traffic, limited parking spaces and long checkout linescan be very frustrating and stressful – even when you have the time. To avoid these time-consuming pitfalls, caregivers can consider:

    - Shopping online (some sites will also provide gift wrapping)
    - Asking a relative or close friend to do your shopping
    - Purchasing gift cards

  5. Give yourself the gift of understanding – One of the greatest gifts you can receive this holiday season is a gift you can give yourself. Be willing to forgive yourself for not being able to do it all this holiday. Recognize that your life and your responsibilities have changed and that you need to adjust your expectations accordingly. Also, it’s OK to say “no” sometimes. This is one of those times.

  6. Ask for help –Part of the gift of caregiver self-forgiveness is understanding that it is acceptable to ask for help. Most close friends and relatives are happy to help out, but don’t know exactly what to do. Therefore, be very specific as to how they can help. For example, take mom to her dental appointment next Tuesday, or pick up the following items at the grocery store the next time you go, or purchase ten gift cards when you go to the retail store this week. Once they know what help you need, they’ll be happy to assist.

  7. Take good care of yourself – Caregivers often neglect their own health while giving priority to their loved ones’ well-being. You can help yourself to get through the stressful holiday season by doing the following:

    - Get eight hours of sleep a night
    - Take short naps when you can – even 20 minutes will help
    - Take walks or get exercise in other ways to reduce your stress
    - Eat healthy and avoid too much caffeine and alcohol

Sara adds, “By following these tips, you can reduce the stress and preserve your own physical and emotional well-being this holiday while also enabling you to be a better caregiver. That is a gift in itself.” 

We encourage you to call us with any questions you might have and to stay current on a variety of senior health and caregiver topics by viewing our latest articles on our website.

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, Caregiver Coping: How to Adjust Your Expectations for the Holidays, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

Discover Our Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

Located adjacent to Lankenau Medical Center, Saunders House – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services – including short-term rehabilitation, traditional nursing care, restorative care, memory care, respite care and specialized care for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Saunders House, our Short-Term Rehabilitation program and other professional services, please call us today at 610.658.5100 or contact us online.

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Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.


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