By Janet Coulter, MSN, MS, RN, CCM, FCM 

The holidays can be a wonderful time to celebrate traditions and spend time with family and friends. It’s a very busy time of year. During this time, caregivers are especially prone to increased emotional and physical stress. Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. On one hand, being a caregiver is very rewarding and demonstrates love for your family members. On the other hand, the caregiver may be exhausted from the preparations for the holiday on top of the demands of providing care for a loved one. This increased stress can put the caregiver at increased risk for changes in their health.

Several factors can be controlled to decrease caregiver stress. Dreams of a perfect holiday can interfere with enjoying the company of family and friends. Goals may need to be adjusted to make the holidays meaningful and enjoyable. Prioritizing holiday activities is a great way to keep things simple. Choose a religious service that means the most to you and attend that one.  Holiday decorations may have very significant meanings, but you don’t have to display all your holiday decorations. Maybe a family member or friend can help with decorating. Preparing greeting cards takes a lot of time. So, instead of sending greeting cards, send an e-greeting or send fewer greeting cards. Holiday baking and cooking are traditions in many families, but it can be exhausting. Try to simplify the holiday menu while including traditional dishes. Another idea is to order your holiday meal from a local grocery store or restaurant. The “ready to warm up and eat” meals can be a great way to celebrate the holiday without all the meal preparation! Going to a restaurant to eat is another option but plan. Many restaurants are not open on holidays. Enjoy holiday goodies in moderation but don’t overeat or drink too much.  Shopping online has many advantages. Gift cards make great presents. Be sure to consider your budget! Maybe drawing names for gift-giving would be a possible option.

Strive to make good memories and enjoy the holidays.  Don’t focus on losses or what you or your loved one cannot do. Minimize time with select family members to decrease any possible drama. Use video chat for those events you cannot attend. Make new traditions, try something new. Watching holiday movies at home is one of my favorite things! Surround yourself with holiday music and enjoy the holiday spirit!

During the holidays, caregivers often forget to practice self-care. Be sure to get plenty of sleep and keep moving. Take a walk outside if the weather permits. Sunlight and aromatherapy can be soothing. Don’t be afraid to ask family and friends for help. Even a few hours of assistance with a few chores can make a big difference. Try to have some free time to enjoy the holidays.

Here are some of the best tips and ideas collected from caregivers and care managers of the Medicare Alzheimer's Project in Broward and Miami-Dade Florida.

  • Laugh about something every day. 
  • Take care of yourself physically. 
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. 
  • Talk with someone every day. 
  • Let family and friends help. Give them printed material on memory disorders so they can better understand your relative. Give them a chance. 
  • Give yourself permission to have a good cry. Tears aren't a weakness, they reduce tension.
  • Exercise. A brisk walk counts. 
  • Get adequate rest. 
  • Try a bowl of Cheerios and milk before bed to promote sleep. 
  • Avoid noisy and/or tension-filled movies at night. The late news itself can add to stress. Skip it.
  • Reduce daily caffeine intake. 
  • Get professional help if you feel your support system isn't adequate or if you feel overwhelmed. 
  • Take a break every day, even if it's only 10 minutes alone in the backyard. 
  • Explore community resources and connect yourself with them. 
  • Listen to music. 
  • Learn relaxation techniques. 
  • Regularly attend one or more support groups and education workshops. 
  • Give yourself a treat at least once a month: an ice cream cone.... a new shirt or dress.... a night out with friends.... a flowering plant.
  • Know your limitations.

The holiday season is here. Laugh! Relax! Enjoy yourself! Make new memories. You deserve it!

In the relentless pace of healthcare, self-care is your armor against burnout. The toll on our heroes persists, underscoring the need for personal well-being. Prioritize self-care; it is so much better than burnout.

Bio: Janet Coulter, MSN, MS, RN, CCM, FCM, is a transplant case manager with a wide variety of experiences, including educator, administrator, team leader, and Director of Case Management. Janet holds a Master of Science in Nursing from West Virginia University and a Master of Science in Adult Education from Marshall University. She has published many articles in CMSA Today and the Professional Case Management Journal and served as a reviewer for the Core Curriculum for Case Management Third Edition. She serves as Chair of the CMSA Today Editorial Board and Secretary of the CMSA Foundation board. Janet received the CMSA National Award of Service Excellence and Southern Ohio Valley CMSA Case Management Leadership award and was recently inducted as a Case Management Fellow from CMSA. Janet has been active in CMSA at the national and local levels. She is currently the President-Elect of CMSA National, Chairperson of the Editorial Board of CMSA Today, Chairperson of the Nominations Committee, and Vice-President of the CMSA Foundation.