November is National Family Caregivers Month, and this year’s theme is “Caregiving Around the Clock.” For those who serve as family caregivers, “around the clock” is an expression they know too well.

As we approach the holiday season when the focus is on family gatherings and celebrations, it's important to remember those family caregivers and friends who care for the millions of people who can no longer care for themselves.

For some family caregivers, the holidays can be a joyful time. It feels good to care for loved ones and enjoy time together, celebrating with family traditions. But for many the holidays also bring added stress. Anticipation of the holidays can also create an internal feeling of dread. If you are like the average caregiver, you love certain aspects about the holidays but are anxious about others. Just the thought of your normal routine plus decorating the house, attending special events, shopping for gifts, and preparing special food for the holidays can be overwhelming.

What if caregivers had more control over the events, expectations, and relationships that often make holiday times so stressful? Here are some helpful suggestions to help make this holiday season a joyous, healthful and manageable one for you and your loved one. Other family members who don’t have the caregiving responsibility should take note too.

Let others know when you need help. The holidays are times when there are usually an abundance of family and friends who are eager to help. If you want assistance with caregiving responsibilities, such as time away for relaxation or an extra hand or two in the kitchen, don’t be afraid to ask. Not only does this help you, but it can be very stimulating and enjoyable for your loved one to have others to interact with and share in his or her care.

Express your emotions with family and friends. The holidays can trigger emotions ranging from joy to depression in caregivers. A strong sense of loss may work its way into your life during the holidays. It might involve coming to grips with the permanent loss of your loved one’s mental or physical abilities. Perhaps you have a strong feeling that this may be your loved one’s last holiday. Maybe it is the loss of your own freedom with caregiver responsibilities that hits hardest during the holidays. Regardless, talk with others about how you feel. By expressing your feelings you lighten your emotional burden and give others a chance to reach out to you for a change.

Set realistic expectations for yourself and your loved one. The starting point for not feeling controlled by many holiday demands is to decide what you and your loved one want. How many events, if any, can you both attend or host without overdoing it? What contributions are you capable of making to group needs such as food, drink and gifts? This year, give yourself permission to say “no” to unwanted demands and don’t give in or feel guilty.

Take time out for yourself. Everyone seems extra busy during the holidays but for caregivers this can literally mean no rest from morning to night. Start with the essentials: get adequate sleep, eat well and take time for some physical activity. If possible, get out of the house for brief periods to maintain perspective and clear your mind. Consider shopping online for many of your gifts this holiday season. Then use the extra time and energy you saved fighting traffic and standing in lines on taking better care of yourself.

Celebrate what you and your loved one have today. Caregiving can create a true sense of helplessness and undue anxiety. Celebrate what you and your loved one share right now. It really comes down to making choices. You only have a limited amount of time, energy and resources available. The question is: how are you and your loved one going to spend these? With a little planning and clear communication with friends or family on your intentions, it’s possible to celebrate the holiday, care for your loved one, and take care of yourself.

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