“Tis the season to be jolly…fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la…” and other holiday themed songs play on every store’s sound system while you are shopping. You see parents and children laughing and filled with joy as they fill their carriages with holiday themed items. Meanwhile, you flash a warm, smiling nod as you pass these fellow shoppers with feelings of hidden sadness on the inside. You are trying your best to keep your inner “Scrooge” from screaming “Bah Humbug” to the universe.
I have experienced the above during most holiday seasons since assuming the role of family caregiver in 2009. I used to love the holidays and even hosted several large family gatherings. Two of my greatest passions were food and shopping so I enjoyed many holiday traditions with family and friends, including early bird Black Friday shopping followed by delicious Thanksgiving leftovers.
This all changed as I had to account for my parents’ declining mobility and increasing direct support needs. My mother, who had been one of the greatest beacons for happiness and positivity, showed increasing elder holiday depression as a result of my father’s illness and eventual death a few days before Christmas. The holiday season seemed to put a spotlight on her physical and psychological pain. I had developed caregiver holiday blues.
Fortunately, I was working with a life coach during the latter part of my caregiving journey. During this period I determined some strategies for successfully coping with the caregiver holiday blues.
- Do not fight against or suppress your uncomfortable feelings. It is normal to have increasing feelings of anger, loneliness, or sadness at many points during your caregiving journey. These feelings can become more pronounced when you see the media and others promoting “the most wonderful time of year.” Acknowledge and understand your feelings without being critical of yourself for having them. Share your feelings with others and shed tears or punch a stuffed holiday animal when you need to. Otherwise, you run the risk of sinking into deeper levels of depression by telling yourself there’s something wrong with you for feeling this way. Just let those self-critical feelings go. You do not deserve them.
- Rise above the guilt or negativity of others. It is natural and healthy to want to change things up and ease your load during the holiday season. If some family members are attached to certain holiday activities but are not so involved in the day to day caregiving responsibilities, acknowledge and appreciate their attachment to those special traditions. Let them know you share their feelings and sentiments but feel the need to give up some holiday tasks for your own sanity and well-being. Be honest about your needs without being defensive and do not feed into any feelings of guilt that may arise.
- Simplify the season and accept support. Many caregivers put themselves at the brink of exhaustion due to their desire to micromanage or do it all themselves. Be willing to ask friends or relatives to take over some of your duties for a period of time. Accept that the best effort from others may not be as good as when you do it. People can get better with practice so give them a chance to learn and grow. As for holiday planning, engage younger family members with creating new holiday experiences that can become meaningful traditions going forward. These could be enjoyed for many generations to come.
One thing is certain…the holiday season will eventually come to an end. Be good to yourself and set aside time to do things just for you.