Caregiver Connection

Preparing for holidays when you’re a caregiver

By Laura Roias, LICSW 

Holidays—whichever you celebrate—can be wonderful occasions. Whether small or large, gatherings of friends and family may include longstanding traditions or some you’re just starting to create.

Yet, holidays can put pressure on all of us to be happy and festive—even when we may not feel that way. Celebrations and the preparations leading up to them can be difficult when someone close to you is struggling with serious health issues.

If you’re a caregiver and already feeling like you’re operating at or over your maximum capacity, you may want to think ahead about what you can reasonably do during the holidays this year. Doing the usual shopping, decorating, cooking, and socializing may be too much. And trying to do it all could make you feel anxious, resentful, angry, or sad.

There are things you can do to lessen your holiday burden. Try some of these ideas to help you manage—and even thrive—during this holiday season:

  • Plan ahead
    If you can, plan ahead. Decide what decorations to hang, who you’ll get gifts for, what you’ll cook, and what parties you’ll either host or attend. It’s often easier to make these choices early, before everyone around you is pressed for time, harried, and full of expectation.
  • Think about safety
    If you’ll be hosting a party, take a look at your home with your loved one in mind. Remove items that could be tripping hazards, such as cords or loose rugs. Make sure there’s an unobstructed path to the bathroom and adequate lighting. If your loved one is traveling to your home, think about the easiest path for them to get from a car into the house. And make sure that path is clear of snow and ice.
  • Include everyone
    Even if your loved one is dealing with physical or cognitive limitations, try to make them feel like an essential part of holiday preparations and celebrations. Encourage them to share stories of the past or to take on small, manageable tasks to prepare for the holiday.
  • Take care of yourself
    Try to get plenty of sleep. It’s ok to say no to some events or leave a party early if it means you’ll be well-rested. And don’t lose sight of healthy eating and drinking habits. It’s ok to enjoy some special side dishes or desserts—just do so in moderation. Keeping up with your daily walks or weekly exercise routine is also important. And if you’re feeling depressed, contact your primary care provider or mental health provider.
  • Accept help
    Many hands often make light work—especially when it comes to holiday preparations. No one’s expecting you to do it all.
  • Prioritize and modify
    Talk with family members and decide on a few things that are most important. Make changes to traditions that are hard to keep up with right now—or leave them aside temporarily.
  • If it’s too difficult for your loved one to travel, have a smaller celebration where they live.
  • Buy desserts or side dishes instead of making them.
  • Cut back on the number of people you buy gifts for—or reduce your shopping trips by getting gift cards or ordering online. Have someone help you with wrapping.
  • If you usually bake 12 kinds of cookies, cut back to two or three. Or skip baking and order from a bakery instead.
  • If you normally go out for New Year’s Eve, but can’t leave your loved one alone, consider having a few people over. Together you can enjoy dinner and watching movies or playing games that your loved one can participate in or enjoy observing.
  • Present change in a positive way
    If preparing a traditional family meal is something your loved one enjoyed but can no longer realistically do, you could suggest writing down the recipes for everything you usually have and sending them to guests to prepare. That’s a way of handing down traditions to the next generations while giving your loved one a chance to continue to be involved and feel a sense of control.
  • Avoid the compare and despair trap
    Holiday celebrations can change from year to year for any number of reasons. Try not to compare any unfavorably. Instead, accept that change can be hard and is often accompanied by some sadness. This is normal. Honor the emotion and embrace the opportunity to spend time with your loved ones and to celebrate in each other’s presence.

Most importantly, let go of expectations—and encourage others to do the same. Try to stay in the moment and be realistic. Although asking for help can be difficult, it’s so important during the holidays, when people have longer lists of tasks and a short period of time to get them done. Working together on a new way to celebrate can make the holiday season more manageable and enjoyable for all, even under changing circumstances.

Laura Roias, LICSW, is Manager of Clinical Integration Behavioral Health Management for Fallon Health’s NaviCare® SCO and HMO SNP.

Originally posted: October 2018
Last updated: December 2023

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