By Elain Harris

The holidays are traditionally a time when we reflect on past memories. For those who live with a frail spouse or for children with an elderly parent or parents, these reflections often deepen the awareness of the extent of how much life has changed for them both. Holiday time reminiscing can also underscore the loss adult children face in the altered quality of their personal relationship with the older family member. These losses sometimes heighten feelings of sadness and stress.

The holidays are also a traditional time for family gatherings. While these gatherings can be fun and so enjoyable, they can also be a time of tension. Adult children, some of whom are also caregivers, often find themselves in the middle of family discord as they try to mediate the needs of the older person as well as do whatever is needed to maintain a balance for themselves. An example of that is what happened with my own elderly Mother.

I remember Mom being very aware that while she was still quite capable of driving, she just was not as good at it as she once was. For several years before she finally stopped getting behind the wheel altogether, she took a hiatus from driving during the busy Holiday Season, at our insistence. It coincided with some snowy months.

The lack of independence and the feeling of how will I prepare for the Holidays without someone taking me to the grocery store, helping me buy my gifts, make my home the place it’s always been for my family was extremely stressful for my Mom and could be for your elderly family member too. But it was also stressful for us, as we felt guilty for having told her that driving was dangerous for her. Little did we understand the ripple effect it would have. And this takes place in many homes with a variety of situations involving the adult children and their elderly family members.

So, while trying to please Mom and those like her to ease their stress, you have now created an additional burden for yourself. And that too is stressful. The Holiday Season can add an already heavy load of responsibilities to families with elderly and frail members and feeling stressed increases dramatically.

However, there are ways to ease stress during the holidays. Set manageable expectations and limits for yourself. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.Try not to set yourself up for disappointment. Try not to compare this year’s holiday season to the nostalgia of past holidays. Each can be enjoyed in their own way.

Ask for and accept help. Let other family members and friends know what to do to share the responsibility of all that pertains to the holidays and to helping with your elderly family members. Maintain and establish social interaction with friends and family members. Isolation can further increase feelings of stress.

Remember the holiday season does not banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely. There’s room for feelings of sadness, grief and loneliness that can also be accompanied by more joyful emotions.

Avoid overly stimulating environments. It can add to anxiety for the elderly and end up increasing your stress level.

Don’t abandon healthful eating and drinking habits. It’s certainly okay to treat yourself during the holidays, but avoid giving in to stress-driven urges for overeating or overindulging in alcohol.

Exercise regularly. Walk, swim, do yoga, bike, do aerobics. It will benefit both your physical and emotional well-being.

Seek emotional and moral support. There is always strength in knowing that you are not alone. Besides friends and family, many communities have support groups for family caregivers.

Find ways to ensure you get enough rest. The added physical and emotional demands that are involved in celebrating the holidays can add to an already heavy load of caregiving responsibilities and cause feelings of stress to soar.

Reaching out to those who love and care about both you and your elderly and frail family members may prove to be a rewarding experience for both you and other family members and friends. Are not the holidays the time for sharing and giving? People often look for a place where they can feel rewarded by giving of themselves and what better place for those around you to feel rewarded than by helping you.

Happy Holidays to everyone from SpeechMED

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