The holidays can be extra demanding for a caregiver, but a little planning and communication can help spread the joy of the season.

An already stressful situation can become even more taxing for caregivers who have to navigate the holidays each year. The hustle and bustle of family gatherings, buying gifts, cooking for groups and organizing activities can become particularly draining when layered on top of the other tasks a caregiver handles on a daily basis. There are a number of useful tools and tactics that can help make the holiday season a joy for caregivers, their family and friends.


Have open dialogue with family members by letting them know that during the holidays, you may not be able to participate in the usual activities and may also need some assistance for a few days so you can get tasks completed. Consider putting a tactful note in a holiday card to friends stating that you know this season will be a bit more limited for you than usual due to your caregiver role. It also may, be helpful to ask other family members to host a dinner or two at their home. Oftentimes, family and friends are willing to help out, but they may feel that they are intruding on your privacy if they ask directly.


One of the best ways to alleviate stress during the holiday season is to be prepared. Consider doing your shopping online to decrease the amount of time you’re away from the home. Save catalogs and create your gift list from them so that when you do go out and shop, you know exactly what you are looking for when you get there.

If you’re doing the cooking and baking, consider items that you can prepare ahead of time and freeze prior to the holiday. Review your calendar well in advance and determine the exact days you will need a break. Ask a family member or friend to assist you on those dates so they will know well in advance and can easily commit. If you don’t have a network of family/friends, consider an outside agency for one or two days a month leading up to the holiday.


Decide which holiday traditions are keepers and which ones you can part with; focus on the ones that are important and make them memorable for everyone. Remember that if you are stressed, tired and lack energy, you or the loved one you are caring for will most likely not have an enjoyable holiday. Make sure to also work in time for exercise, a massage or simply time in a relaxing environment with the loved one you’re caring for.

The key to having a joyous holiday season is recognizing that you can’t do everything. By following a few simple suggestions, you can alleviate typical stressors and create an environment that will allow you to look forward to holidays to come.

Michele Mongillo, RN, MSN, is a clinical director who has over 20 years of nursing experience in a variety of settings including acute care, head/spinal cord injury rehabilitation and long-term care.