Caregiving Through the Holidays
Caregiving Through the Holidays
How can a time of year so often associated with joy, laughter, and celebrating be the source of increased stress, turmoil, depression, and/or worry?
Negative emotions and/or reactions can hit you hard in December. Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah involve family time, but the COVID-19 pandemic has kept most people from visiting at-risk family members. Furthermore, seasonal demands increase; shopping, wrapping presents, and baking all take extra time and effort that you may not have.
COVID-19 has also led to significant job losses. You may be unemployed or going through a career transition at this time. The upcoming holidays may also be a painful reminder of a loved one in long-term care whom you cannot visit. Whatever the unique circumstances, family caregivers are certainly facing additional stress going into the 2020 holiday season.
There is good news: There are several easy ways you can support yourself. Try these ideas to take care of your mental, emotional, and financial health this holiday season:
Shop online. As many of my favorite stores are still closed due to COVID-19, I’ve been shopping online, and--I confess--I love the convenience. I can brew myself a cup of coffee, browse retailer’s websites from home at any time, place my order, and have it delivered to my door. Internet shopping cannot offer personalized customer service so I will also be donning a face mask and visiting brick-and-mortar stores. Consider doing your holiday shopping online to save time and account or safety concerns.
Establish a budget. Getting caught up in the flurry of shopping and overspending can be easy to do. Set a maximum dollar amount for gift-giving. Nervous retailers haven’t taken cash for purchases for months, but a bank debit card or a credit card will work. Debit cards, of course, will only allow for spending to the maximum funds in a bank account. Credit cards provide more spending freedom (and can result in a nasty credit card bill to pay in January). You may be able to request a lower credit limit for December and reestablish the previous level after the holidays.
Reduce decorating. You may have saved family holiday decorations in storage. Instead of pulling all these boxes upstairs from the basement and unpacking them, consider choosing a select number of items that carry the most meaning. Handed-down decorations could also be shared amongst siblings and extended family so everyone can display them.
Give gift cards. A gift card for a favored retailer, restaurant, or service provider is a thoughtful present that can make for easier and quicker shopping. Slipping the gift card inside a holiday card and mailing it will ensure proper social distancing.
Volunteer. With caregivers routinely giving so much, giving more may be difficult to imagine. But donating some time, expertise, and/or energy to a meaningful cause can be rewarding and a wonderful gift to give yourself and others. If you are unable to block off a few hours to do something in-person, consider making a one-time financial donation to a charity or non-profit that carries personal significance. (Perhaps somewhere significant to an aging loved one?)
Change customs. Families typically have their fair share of holiday customs. Did Dad always pick up the tree, or did Mom always cook the turkey? Customs may need to be adapted. Perhaps another sibling could host dinner. Maybe Mom or Dad could still offer help in the kitchen by stirring the gravy or tossing the salad. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can create new traditions in the face of challenging and changing circumstances.
Draw names. Larger families may decide to try this approach. Each family member will choose another’s name from a hat (literal or figurative) and be responsible for purchasing a gift for that person only. This reduces the time and expense of buying for many. By not being rushed to shop for everyone, you can focus on finding a more special gift for someone specific.
Schedule “me-time”. You may be unable to take off your face masks and relax inside a coffee shop without worrying about the distance between tables. However, there are other safe ways to escape from the seasonal rush. Curl up with a warm blanket and a good book at home. Watch a movie at home with the immediate family. Bundle up and go for a brisk walk outside. Whatever you can do to help yourself will benefit you physically, mentally, and emotionally. (Ideally the practice of taking respite could continue regularly after the holidays!)
While family caregivers may want to accomplish more over the holidays (and may believe that they can), they should instead not spread themselves too thin. To best manage the holidays, family caregivers need to set their own limits, find balance, and not let themselves or others convince them they can do more.
About the Contributor
As a former co-caregiver, Rick Lauber helped and supported his own aging parents (his mother had Parkinson's and Leukemia and his father had Alzheimer's). Rick learned that caregiving is challenging and used writing to cope. His stories became two books, “Caregiver's Guide for Canadians” and “The Successful Caregiver's Guide” for American readers. Learn more about Rick and connect with him via www.ricklauber.com.
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