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Coping with the holidays

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The holiday season can be stressful for many reasons: social obligations, shopping, money concerns, holiday meal preparation, decorating, etc.

Holidays can be particularly stressful for caregivers because, on top of all the usual holiday activities, they find themselves also trying to balance caregiving duties. If you are taking care of someone during this holiday season, you may find that there simply is not enough time in the day to do everything you used to do for the holidays. You may also find it difficult to enjoy the holidays when someone you love is in need of assistance.

Fortunately, there are some specific things you can consider in light of your caregiving situation to help make the holiday season less stressful and more enjoyable for you and the person you are caring for.

Acknowledge changes that have taken place in your life. If you are now caring for someone that needs help, don't ignore the changes that have occurred in your circumstances and in the person you are caring for. It's OK and healthy to talk about these changes with other people. Also, recognize that changes in your circumstances may necessitate changes in the way you celebrate the holidays. Avoid feeling like you have to prepare for and celebrate the holidays the same way you always have. Being flexible with traditions now that your circumstances have changed will help to ease holiday stress.

Plan ahead. You may find it helpful to breakdown holiday planning day by day. Try making a list of the tasks associated with each holiday. You can then develop a holiday planning calendar where you schedule various tasks on days/times that make sense for you. By planning ahead, you will avoid cramming everything into a limited time frame. Also, consider scheduling your shopping during "off-peak" times to avoid the stress of crowds and traffic (example: in the early morning of a weekday).

Be realistic. Recognize and accept that some holiday traditions may no longer be possible or may best be modified in light of your changed circumstances. Take a look at your holiday planning task list and decide which things should remain unchanged, which tasks you could do differently this year, which tasks someone else could do and which tasks you could omit entirely this year.

Maybe it isn't necessary to decorate the inside of your house and put up lights in the front yard this year. Maybe someone else should host the family gathering instead of you. You might find it less stressful to simply go out to eat a holiday meal with family and friends this year instead of doing the cooking. Maybe you usually travel to see family/friends during the holidays, but your caregiving situation would make travel very difficult this year.

Look at new ways to celebrate the holidays with these out-of-town family/friends -- maybe you could simply connect with people over the phone or maybe some people would be willing to visit you for a change. Remember that it is not the decorations, the food or the location that is important; it's the time you spend with the people you care about.

It's OK to say "No." Figure out what things you really enjoy doing during the holidays and what things you do out of necessity, obligation, tradition, etc. Try saying "no" to some of the tasks or activities that you don't really want to do this season. Ask family members or friends to help with some tasks. People will understand if you can't do everything you used to do this year and you will avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Don't expect perfection. Don't worry about trying to make everything "perfect" this holiday season. Be flexible now that your circumstances are different than they used to be.

Seek support. Use your support system during the holiday season. Think of supportive people that you can connect with to talk, for companionship, for emotional support. Reach out to supportive people among your family, friends, co-workers, community services (such as a support group), church, etc. When you need support don't retreat -- reach out to others.

Take care of yourself. Eat well, make time for some physical activity, don't overindulge in alcohol and get sufficient sleep. Lack of sleep and nutrition can lead to exhaustion and stress.

Remember that the holidays have a limited number of hours and they will come and go even if you don't feel ready. Give yourself permission to modify the way you celebrate the holidays to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Finally, give yourself permission to have fun and enjoy the holidays however you decide to celebrate them this season.

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