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Avoid Holiday Stress & Embrace Joy as a Caregiver

As a micro-act of joy, savor a hot beverage.

The holiday season, with its festive cheer and family traditions, can also bring about stress and overwhelm, especially for caregivers. Balancing the needs of a loved one with ME/CFS, Long COVID, and/or other debilitating chronic illnesses adds an extra layer of complexity. In this guide, we'll outline six practical strategies and more than two dozen tactics to avoid holiday stress and embrace joy, ensuring that the season is a time of connection and celebration rather than a source of exhaustion.

1. Focus on Meaningful Moments

The holiday rush often leads to a frantic pursuit of perfection. Instead, take a step back and reflect on what truly brings joy to you and your loved ones.

  • Recognize that traditions can be modified or simplified. As a caregiver, give yourself some grace. You don’t need to stress. The purpose of these holiday traditions is to give us joy. If they’re not bringing you joy, then don’t worry about the tradition or modify/simplify it.

  • Ask yourself, "What is realistic, manageable, and enjoyable?" Anything else can be modified, discarded, or delegated to someone else.

  • Ask your loved one what holiday activity or tradition is most important to them. Involve your loved one in the decision-making process.

  • Consider focusing on 1-2 simple things that bring joy to you and your loved ones (e.g. a certain delicious food like chocolate or cookies, Christmas ornaments, Hanukkah candles, music, etc.)

  • Consider spreading out bite-sized festivities over a week or a month instead of cramming them into one day to make them more manageable and enjoyable for everyone.

2. Simplify and Modify

Instead of stressing over elaborate gifts and cooking, opt for simplicity.

  • Host a holiday potluck to share the workload.

  • Embrace time- and energy-saving strategies, like purchasing gifts online that can be shipped to either you or the recipient. Consider opting for gift cards with personalized notes.

  • Consider art days, where you and your loved ones engage in creative activities instead of gift-giving.

  • Make simple homemade gifts. My kids have crafted coupons for 10-minute massages for me. Another idea is writing a poem, letter, or card -- which can be more meaningful than something purchased.

3. Set Boundaries

As a caregiver, establishing boundaries is crucial for your well-being.

  • Communicate any COVID concerns to family and friends, requesting safety measures during gatherings.

  • If you are hosting, limit the number of guests if needed.

  • Don't hesitate to say no to invitations.

  • Your mental and physical health should be a top priority.

4. Think Ahead about Accommodations and Discussing the Illness

  • Consider hosting online gatherings to eliminate travel stress.

  • Advocate for your loved one's needs by communicating any sensitivities or accommodations required during travel, going to a restaurant, or visiting someone's home.

  • Be pro-active and plan ahead with hosts, ensuring a comfortable environment that considers your loved one's health.

  • For example, does your loved one need a comfortable padded chair or a spare bedroom to lie down to rest in the middle of the party? Maybe you could bring a pillow cushion if the hosts don’t have a padded chair.

  • Or if your loved one has chemical, smell, or sound sensitivities, give others a heads up about these concerns or ask that you meet outdoors where there's fresh air.

  • Does your loved one have food sensitivities or need to follow a special diet? Consider bringing a dish that your loved one can eat.

  • If needed, prepare ahead of time to discuss and explain your loved one's illness.

5. Acknowledge Ambiguous Loss & Embrace Radical Acceptance

It's okay to acknowledge the challenging emotions that come during the holidays.

  • Hold space for your feelings of ambiguous loss and invite radical acceptance.

  • Focus on what you can do instead of dwelling on what you can't.

  • Modify holiday traditions to align with your current circumstances and find joy in the possibilities that remain.

6. Be Present and Find Joy in Small Moments

Embrace the present moment and seek joy in the simplicity of the holiday season.

  • Breathe and pause to savor the moment. Slow down to appreciate the small everyday activities.

  • Have gratitude for what you do have and the function your loved one does have. Remember it could be worse since ME/CFS/Long COVID is a rollercoaster with lots of ups and downs from day to day, month to month, and even year to year.

  • Focus on micro-acts of joy: We often think joy needs to be like a huge party, but it can be found in small, everyday activities. Whether it's a quiet walk, a cup of tea, or admiring seasonal changes, these micro-acts of joy can make a significant impact on your well-being.

Navigating the holiday season as a caregiver requires a thoughtful and intentional approach. By focusing on what truly matters, simplifying & modifying activities, setting boundaries, considering accommodations, acknowledging ambiguous loss and radical acceptance, and finding joy in small moments, you can create a holiday experience that brings connection and joy without the overwhelming stress. Remember, the essence of the season lies in the moments shared and the love exchanged, not in the perfection of festivities.


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