As a caregiver for a senior adult, you know a thing or two about stress. Caregiving is a huge responsibility that can involve complex issues, personality differences, and potentially a significant amount of time away from your own spouse and children.

And if you consider the expectations that come with the holidays, as well as caring for a senior who may be suffering from depression and/or a chronic disease, the holiday season can become quite overwhelming.

How can you as a caregiver make the most of the holidays for yourself and your senior loved one?

Tips to Help Manage Holiday Stress

Lower your expectations. The holidays are a time of high stress and emotion. Many people feel the pressure of excelling at all facets of holiday celebration: fancy decorations, full-course meals, sending holiday cards, planning parties, etc. Take the pressure off yourself. Go light on the decorations, ask guests at your gathering to bring their favorite holiday dish, or create paperless holiday greeting cards to email to friends and family.

Your senior loved one may also appreciate a simpler holiday season as well. Remember that quality time spent with family, not preparations, should be the focus of the holidays. Coming together, sharing stories, and renewing bonds can be accomplished without a “perfect” holiday observance.

Accept that you are not responsible for other people’s moods. Your loved one may just not want to celebrate the holiday season that day. Perhaps they aren’t feeling their best, or the holiday brings back sad memories. There are some things as a caregiver that are beyond your control, and in those situations, trying to foster a happy atmosphere can be frustrating and add to your holiday stress.

This may also apply to friends and family who seem to have issues with your delivery of care methods, long-standing conflicts with your senior, or political and social perspectives that differ from the rest of the group. You may have to deflect certain topics of conversation or deftly derail one that is headed in a negative direction. But you need to accept you have done your best, however, and not feel guilty if things do not go as you had envisioned.

Involve your senior in holiday preparations. Let your senior loved one do whatever he or she is capable of in terms of planning and preparing for the holidays. This not only helps you manage holiday stress, but can give your senior a sense of purpose that goes a long way in making the holidays a positive experience. Look for community events to participate in, have your senior prepare their favorite holiday dish, or observe an old family tradition with them. Encourage your senior to talk about past holidays and tell cherished stories about loved ones who are no longer with them, but are not forgotten.

Get help. Caregivers are people who take on responsibility—sometimes too much responsibility, which can be particularly true during the holidays. If it looks like things are going to be too much, be willing to call in reinforcements. This could mean bringing in a family member, friend or a caregiving professional. Start planning for this early, as everyone’s holiday calendar tends to fill up quickly.

Be flexible. Caregivers also tend to be planners, as they always have to meet the needs of their seniors. But your holiday plans have to be realistic, which means as things change (and they will), you adapt and make changes to your plans. Create your plan, but don’t be a slave to it and beat yourself up when the plan has to be altered.

Keep yourself healthy. In the holiday rush, the last person you may be thinking about is yourself. Your exercise routine, diet, sleep patterns and time you need for yourself become difficult to adhere to as you strive for the “perfect holiday.” Maintaining your health and managing holiday stress is not only important for yourself, it is important for your loved ones, including the senior that is counting on you for care.

Develop a holiday plan that will work for you and your senior loved one. Alter it if need be. Accept its imperfections. Involve them if they want to be involved. Make the best of it, and feel good about the effort you have put into making the holiday season the best that it can be.

Caregiving is a full-time job. Check out our Caregiver Tips blog to find guidance on how to make the job just a little easier.