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Holiday stress-busters for harried caregivers

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
December 7, 2018

Whether you are a family caregiver or a professional caregiver, the holidays can take a toll on your schedule.  Check out these positive ways to keep holiday stress at bay, from professionals at Home Instead Center for Successful Aging.

Be flexible: the holidays are steeped in personal, family and religious traditions. That’s a lot of responsivity for family caregivers- often the adult children of aging parents. Diane K. Hendricks, CMSW, LMHP, social worker for the center for Successful Aging recommends: “As a family, ask yourself “What is important to continue and what can we adapt or let go?”  

Take care of yourself: You hear it every year-Don’t over eat during the holidays, keep exercising. That’s easier said than done for sure. Make a concerted effort to schedule exercise and keep healthy snacks handy to help avoid sugary holiday treats.  

Communicate your needs: Difficult family dynamics can take center stage during the holidays. If family members can no longer continue their traditional holiday roles, that causes conflict so consider communication and discussion around these roles weeks prior to when the holiday tradition is to take place.   The best way to help smooth out problems and avert new ones is to talk and plan things out well in advance. Do not just assume just because someone has always done this or that- that they are still capable of managing these often demanding tasks.  

Look for comic relief: Nothing lifts the spirit like a good laugh! New movies abound during the holidays. Find a comedy and gather your friends or family for an afternoon or evening at the movies in your home.  Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine and growth hormone. It also increases the level of health-enhancing hormones, like endorphins. All this will mean a stronger immune system, as well as fewer physical effects of stress. So make some popcorn, choose a movie and laugh!  

Plan ahead: many people start holiday shopping weeks in advance. Why not approach holiday preparations in much the same way?  Long before the season arrives, start making lists of who can do what, so that no one is overwhelmed with work.  

Make time for your traditions: No doubt you and your spouse have carried over traditions from both your families. But you are just as likely to have generated new family traditions within your own smaller family unit. Don’t let those go by the wayside during the holiday season- it can lead to conflict in your own family.  

Be resourceful: Don’t be a martyr. If someone wants to help, say “YES!” enthusiastically to that offer and move on to the next thing on your long list of must-do’s.  

While material gifts could satisfy desires of a senior loved one, why not choose a present that’s even more meaningful- a gift from the heart.  Family caregivers and senior professionals won’t likely find these requests on a senior ‘s wish list, but they will warm their hearts non the less.  

Take a senior shopping. Make it a special day by taking your older loved one to their favorite store or create an online shopping experience he or she won’t forget.  Maybe walk the mall to see all the holiday décor and perhaps stop for a holiday treat or lunch.

Lend a hand. Carry on the holiday cooking traditions, asking the senior to help where he or she can. Or ask people to bring their favorite dish for a holiday potluck.  Perhaps you can plan an afternoon where each guest will bring their favorite holiday dish or desert as a child. Or a cookie exchange party!

Wrapping and sending packages can be a challenge with arthritis. Why not schedule a gift-wrapping afternoon? Complete with cookies, hot cocoa, holiday music and plenty of family stories.

Deck the halls! Making decorations as a multi – generation activity can bring lots of joy into a home this time of year. Have the grandkids and great grands over to enjoy some old fashioned garland and ornament making.  

Sending and more often receiving holiday cards is one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. Receiving cards from friends and family from afar, some friendships spanning multiple decades can be so joyful. Spend an afternoon with your aging loved one writing out the cards for them if their arthritis makes this activity too painful to do on their own.  I know some families who use last year’s cards to make new homemade ones the next year.  And others use recycled holiday cards to make ornaments.  

Plan a fun event. Caroling is a fun activity at any age. Why not get a group of friends together and serenade other aging adults in nursing homes or assisted living facilities? 

Celebrate the reason for the season. Whatever your faith may, be flexible and change traditions if necessary to fit your loved-ones’ capability. For instance, attend an earlier Christmas Eve service and not a midnight mass.  Inquire what is most meaningful to your aging loved one and adapt that into something they can still partake in.

Focus on others. Your heart expands when you do for others and more people feel the need to open their hearts during the holiday season in this way. Get the family together to sponsor a lonely isolated senior with Home Instead’s Be a Santa to a Senior, or another giving tree program. Volunteer at a homeless shelter serving meals or look for other community needs.

Stay connected and help your aging loved one to do so with those that live far way. Give them the gift of technology perhaps. We gifted my father-in-law a few Christmases ago an iPad.  Now he can visit (see) his family in Greece weekly and it is such a delight for him to see his beloved siblings and friends who live so far away. The world doesn’t have to be so big anymore. There are new technologies available if you seek them out for aging adults, they are coming out all the time now.  Haven’t you seen the ads on TV for the new Portal from Facebook that is a video caller with Alexa built in? You can talk in real time with your loved ones any time.

Most importantly – give the gift of time! Often all an older loved one wants is companionship, whether it’s a few moments of your day or a driving tour to view the holiday lights one evening. Make the time and give the gift or time- it is the biggest most wanted gift of all!  

Don’t have an aging loved one in your life? Would you like to make a difference in one? Be a Santa to a Senior is a true community program, getting generous support from Sonoma businesses, nonprofit organizations, retailers, numerous volunteers and members of the community. Home Instead Senior Care in Rohnert Park has collaborated with local resource partners to help with gift collection and distribution.   

It’s easy to help out. Go to one of the participating locations listed at  or look for the Be a Santa to a Senior tree on display at Raley’s Grocery Stores, Oliver’s Market, LT’s Studio or Mercy Wellness here in town.  Each tree will be decorated with ornaments featuring seniors’ first names and their desired gifts. Holiday shoppers can choose an ornament, buy the requested gift and return it to the store with the ornament attached. There’s no need to worry about wrapping — community volunteers and program partners will wrap and deliver the gifts to local seniors in time for the holidays.

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.