4 ways that caregivers can reduce holiday stress (w/VIDEO)

December 20, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So

Providing care for someone with a serious illness can be full-time duty at any time of the year, but when compounded with holiday plans and obligations, the responsibility can be overwhelming. "There's such a huge expectation of merriment and joy ... that a caregiver simply may not be feeling," said Natalie Schnaitmann, L.C.S.W., director of operations at City of Hope's Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center, in the video above. Caregivers can be further stressed by holiday tasks such as organizing or attending social functions, buying gifts, sending cards and decorating the home. The pressure of things to do and emotions to feel during this time of year can take their toll on caregivers' well-being. And that negatively affects not only their health, but also the health of those for whom they're caring,  Schnaitmann said. To minimize the strain this holiday season, Schnaitmann offered these tips to caregivers:
  1. Create manageable expectations. Schnaitmann encourages caregivers to focus on what is really important this time of year — such as spending time with family — and forgo more extraneous activities.
  2. Streamline or delegate duties. For tasks that are time- or energy-consuming, caregivers should consider keeping them simple, Schaitmann said. For example, getting the same, symbolic gift for everyone on the list instead of individual presents or enlisting others to help with hosting or organizing gatherings.
  3. Modifying traditions. Instead of working around traditions, make traditions work around the caregiver, the patient and what they can handle, Schnaitmann said. This can mean, for example, attending only the dessert portion of an annual holiday party or sending out online holiday cards instead of paper versions.
  4. Take a moment ... and a breath. If caregivers feel overwhelmed, Schnaitmann suggested, they should briefly pause and concentrate on deep breathing. "If the body is breathing slowly ... the mind cannot feel stressed," she said.
Lastly, Schnaitmann reminds caregivers to take care of themselves. That includes getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising regularly — all of which helps reduce stress. "Considering the impact of stress on one's body, one's happiness, one's well-being ... and one's ability to give care, these are important tools to have," Schnaitmann said.    
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