The holidays are full of joy and stress for everyone. But for family caregivers, the holidays can be the most stressful time of the year. As caregivers interact with family, feelings of overwhelm, frustration, resentment, and obligation may start to bubble over. If you know a family caregiver, this article will help you understand how to best care for and support the family caregiver in your life during the holidays. If you are a caregiver, send this article to your loved ones if you feel they could use it.
How to Support The Family Caregiver in Your Life During the Holidays
The tips below will give you some insight and ideas for how to best support the family caregiver in your life during the holidays. Caregivers dedicate a significant portion of their time, finances, and both physical and mental energy to the loved one in their care. Here are some ways to support them in this especially tough season.
The caregiver in your life may find themselves in need of a safe place to vent. Should you be the chosen place, you can best support them by listening attentively and without judgment. Everyone copes and struggles differently with the weight of care, the grief of change, and the implications of the diagnosis for which they’re caring.
Remember: the caregiver is not likely looking for you to solve their problems as much as they are seeking an empathetic ear to tell them to.
Avoid Personal Anecdotes
Every caregiving situation is unique. Stories about other people in your life who have provided care, about someone you know who has gone through the diagnosis that their loved one is currently experiencing, etc. may not be as welcome as they seem.
You may think that you are just contributing a useful or interesting anecdote to their experience (or the conversation in general), but you may unintentionally add stress, guilt, worry, doubt, etc. to the caregiver's plate. For example, don’t talk about surgery horror (or success) stories if their loved one is about to undergo a procedure. Their experience is unique to yours/anyone else’s, and this is not the right time to share that story.
Bring a Hot Meal
If you’ve been invited to the caregiver’s home or an event they’re hosting, offer to bring food. A hot and homemade meal that they didn’t have to cook or clean for is an incredibly welcomed way to support the caregiver in your life over the holidays. Better yet, bring an extra freezer-safe meal for them to enjoy after the festivities in a dish they can keep.
Respect Their Energy Level
Declining an invitation, leaving an event early, refusing to host, or arriving late - all things that may normally be considered rude. To show care to the caregiver in your life, do your best to be understanding when they don’t have the energy they normally would. Avoid adding pressure and guilt, and respect the boundaries they’ve set.
Offer to Help
The holidays can be the most potent reminder for caregivers that others may not be pulling a fair amount of weight in the care of their loved one. Seeing family at events can stir up a lot of negative emotions for a caregiver that feels slighted/unfairly relied upon. Even if you’re a friend, not family, offering to take on a task (or to pay for an afternoon of respite) is an incredibly thoughtful way to support the caregiver in your life.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Caregivers often find it difficult to talk about their experiences providing care. Navigating how much they should share and with whom can lead to them bottling up their emotions (increasing their risk for anxiety, depression, and burnout). If you’re comfortable with it, offer them a safe place to open up by asking a few open-ended questions.
Ask how their loved one is really doing
Talk about how they’re feeling about everything
Check-in or follow-up on details they’ve shared with you before
Offer them an open floor–let them know you’re available to listen
Be mindful and respectful of the fact that they may not want to share. The important thing is that you give them the space to. Opening up and telling the truth about their situation can diffuse feelings of frustration and loneliness for the caregiver in your life.
Take Them Out of the House
If you have the means to, plan a day for the two of you to get away. Book a round of golf, take them out for dinner or coffee, or plan an afternoon to walk through the park. Plan anything you can that gets the caregiver out of the house and away from their responsibilities without adding to their mental load.
Closing Thoughts || Supporting the Caregiver in Your Life
Caregiving at any time of year is difficult, but the added stressors and obligations of the holidays can make this season the hardest. To support the family caregiver in your life during the holidays, do what you can to be understanding of how they show up.
Where to Find More Information
If you provide regular care to your loved one, we at CRC OC are here for you. We invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here for further reading and resources. You are also welcome to give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.