Holiday, Gifts and Stress
By Jude Roberts, Staff Writer

Even if youíre not a caregiver, the threat of the holidays being right around the corner strikes instant fear, terror and major stress into the hearts of almost everyone. However, there is hope for caregivers to enjoy the holiday season and still make it a special time for their loved one as well. The key is to pace yourself, as well as to help your loved one do the same, so that neither of you will feel completely drained, depressed or overwhelmed, especially during such a special time of year. Here are some suggestions that may help you both survive the holidays:

Organize Your Time

  • Try not to schedule too many social events, one right after another. It's better to miss out on a few holiday events than to end up with yourself or a loved getting too exhausted, which could lead to health problems for both of you. Remember, when it comes to holiday events, it's the quality, not the quantity, that counts.

  • Make sure that your loved one gets a chance to have some quiet time away from all the noise, stress, and chaos that is a natural part of the holidays. Itís best to spend some quiet time together, so that you both get a chance to unwind from recent events.

  • If you end up traveling away from home for the holidays, make sure to begin packing way in advance so that youíll have everything needed for the person youíre caring for, as well as for yourself. Make lists and check them often prior to leaving home. Remember to have any refills on medications done early. If youíre traveling by car, remember to break up the car trip with a stopover at a park or at a favorite restaurant so that your loved one can get some fresh air and feel less confined.

  • Watch out for holiday burnout in the person youíre caring for, by taking note of unusual irritability, tiredness, or even boisterousness, depending upon their condition. Also, be aware of possible holiday burnout in yourself.

  • At the end of the holidays, you may notice some post-holiday blues creeping into the mood of your loved one. Itís best to try and get them back into their regular, daily routines as quickly as possible, but do it gradually so that itís not too much of a shock.

  • Patience is always required as a caregiver, but even more patience is required during the holidays, and in order to keep yourself from stressing out too much or becoming too exhausted, itís important to try and keep your own, personal holiday schedule under control. This doesnít mean to deprive yourself of social events that youíd like to attend for yourself, but know what your limits are, know that itís okay to reduce your holiday commitments down to only a few, and donít feel guilty about telling someone ďnoĒ when asked to participate in yet another holiday function.

Shopping Alternatives

  • Shop online whenever possible. A growing number of major retailers have cyberspace shops offering a variety of goods that can be purchased without ever leaving your home.

  • Catalog shopping is another option if you don't want to spend hours fighting the crowds at the mall.

  • Buy the same gift for as many people as possible on your list. If you find a gift book that would be perfect for all of your favorite friends, pick up a half-dozen copies. You donít always have to get everyone you know something different.

  • Use your shopping time as efficiently as you can, by creating and carrying a  business-card sized list of gift ideas in your wallet, along with a list of gifts you've already gotten. These lists will help you from spending so much money, and will also help you not buy so many unnecessary gifts.

Preparing Your Loved One

  • Although itís the holiday season, try to maintain the daily routine you and your loved one are used to doing.

  • Even before an official gathering, continually speak about the people who will be coming to visit, or who youíll be visiting, so that the person youíre caring for will  begin to start looking forward to some social time.

  • Play seasonal music around the house, and serve their favorite, seasonal food.

  • Let the person observe but donít try to force them into any activity beyond their cognitive capacity. Have them do a repetitive task, such as folding napkins or cracking nuts, that will help keep them calm.

  • If itís possible, have them help bake cookies, or decorate the tree. If they donít want to, let them stay as an observer.

  • Prior to the onset of any behavioral problems during a holiday gathering, prepare distractions such as a family album to draw the person's attention away from their problem.

Managing Visitors

  • Itís also a good idea to prepare your visitors for how your loved one may react during the gathering, and what to expect from their condition. This way, it wonít be shock if relatives and friends havenít seen them for a while.

  • Make sure to prepare friends and relatives regarding the condition of your loved one, especially if they havenít seen them in quite a while. The behavior or condition of the person youíre caring for may come as quite a shock, so itís best that everyone is informed ahead of time so that everyone is at ease and relaxed during a holiday visit.

  • Donít focus on how the holidays ďusedĒ to be, but focus instead on what a wonderful gift it is to have your loved one with you for yet another holiday season. The top-two priorities for you during this time of year is maintaining health and happiness, for the person you care for and for yourself as well. If you can, go ahead and by yourself a gift, something youíve had your eye on for quite a while. Try to take time off from other obligations and responsibilities in order to re-energize during this season.

  • Have smaller gatherings; this will help reduce the noise and stress level for you both. Itís okay to set limits, and make sure that everyone in the family, as well as friends, understand what you need as a caregiver during this time. Donít be afraid to ask for help, and to delegate holiday tasks among family and friends. Donít spread yourself too thin by volunteering to help others. Itís okay to say no, and when you do, make it short and simple, and donít apologize; it should be abundantly clear as to why you canít do something, until you actually have extra time on your hands (and when is that really going to happen?). Hopefully, family and friends will want to know what you want or need for the holidays for yourself. Definitely put respite at the top of your list as what youíd like to receive the most.

Gifts For You
  • A day at the spa - a day of massages, facials, manicures and pedicures would be a perfect gift. Caregivers are often so busy meeting everyone else's needs that they overlook their own needs. A service that is totally self-indulgent is a rarity to someone who normally thinks of others first.

  • Gift card for movie rentals - this is a great way for you to catch up on some of the movies you may have missed at the theaters. Ask for some microwave popcorn, traditional movie candies, and may be even a new set of pajamas to go along with the gift card, all perfect for upholding the true tradition of home theater viewing.

  • Gift certificate for a clothing boutique - the wardrobe of a caregiver generally consists of wash and wear clothing (for obvious reasons), so having the opportunity to shop for an outfit that is something other than cotton is a fun splurge.

  • Coupon good for an entire day off from caregiving duties - do anything you want to do, and donít necessarily have the day planned and structured for you, so you can experience some real freedom.

  • Gift certificate for a bookstore or online bookseller - this is a great gift because a new title by your favorite author can always take you to another place when you need to get away.

  • Gift certificate to your favorite music/movie store - being able to get the music you love or continuing to build your DVD or video tape library can be something extremely thoughtful.

  • A coupon good for a night out on the town, including a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant, along with someone to watch your loved one could add up to a wonderful evening.


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