The festive period is meant to be full of fun, laughter and time spent with family and loved ones – a happy time eating lovely food and exchanging presents. So much expectation is placed upon Christmas but for carers this can be a very challenging and stressful time - especially this year. As a carer, you may feel under pressure to provide a good Christmas with as little stress as possible for the person you care for.
There are many aspects of the festive season that may cause you stress, these may include;
- Increased financial burden.
- Feeling pressured to make Christmas perfect as it may be the last one with you all together.
- Feeling pressure to feel happy or carry on as ‘normal’.
- Not having the time to prepare as you would like to as you are restricted by your caring role.
- Not wanting to socialise or socialising being very difficult - especially if you may be shielding.
- Feeling isolated.
- Remembering previous Christmas' and being reminded of happier times can be hard to cope with, also seeing other ‘happy’ families and feeling sad or envious.
- Services you rely on can close or have restricted access over the festive period and because of Covid-19.
- Bad weather.
- Coping for the first time without a loved one.
Avoid the hype
Christmas, like anything else, does not have to be perfect. It’s easy to have an idealistic view of how Christmas should be which is mainly a commercial marketing technique which should be ignored. Christmas can be whatever you want it to be that meets the needs of you and your family so try to be realistic as to what will suit the current needs of your family this year.
Try to plan as much as possible
This is especially important if the person you care for prefers a routine to remain relaxed. It can also help you as the carer to cope with the extra pressures of the day. For example set present budgets, decide who is going where, who is bringing what etc. As a carer, you will probably have had to change or create new Christmas traditions at home or with your family and friends. You might find it helpful to discuss which festive traditions are helpful and which are more stressful and difficult. And what is even possible these days because of the pandemic.
Ask for help
You are important too and as a carer it is common to feel huge responsibility for the whole situation. It is important that you try and rest too and have some fun at Christmas if possible. Delegating tasks can help. Also, saying no to things you do not want to do or cannot do is important to ease stress.
Decide an approach
Family traditions may have to be changed and new ones created. Talk with your family and friends and try to agree on an approach to tackling Christmas. Discuss any specific concerns you (or they) might have to try and work out a plan to manage them. If everyone is on the same page can help to relieve stress and reduce potential conflict. It can help make the planned day run more smoothly if everyone knows what is expected of them.
Many organisations and outlets close over Christmas or have a limited service. Make sure you have all the medication and supplies you may need over the festive period. It may be helpful to have the opening times for your local pharmacy and GP surgery.
Connect with other carers
It can be helpful to share experiences with others who know what you are going through. Carers in Bedfordshire offers carers groups for this kind of support as do many other organisations.
Remember the basics – eat well, stay warm and rest. Keep warm and well over the Christmas period and take care in cold or icy conditions. Try not to over indulge with food or drink especially if it is to cover up emotional stress.
The NHS recommends that carers have their free flu jab as it’s the best way to protect yourself and the person you care for from flu and it should be free for carers. To reduce the risk of spreading flu, use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands regularly and bin used tissues as soon as possible.
Try to relax
If possible, try to carve out little bits of time for yourself over the festive period to do things you enjoy. This could be a hobby, reading, meeting friends (even online), a massage or a walk – anything that is just for you. If possible, try to hold onto some daily rituals you may have that keep you calm and centred.
If you have the internet available to you, internet shopping is a great way to buy everything you need for Christmas without leaving the house.
Take a break
If you find your stress levels rising, try to take a time out for yourself. If you are able to get outside a walk is perfect, if not then time away from others in another room with a coffee and some music or your favourite TV programme.
Advice and tips for Dementia Carers
Here are some tips for carers of people living with dementia:
- Put decorations up gradually.
- Keep things simple and familiar.
- Be as flexible as possible.
- Have realistic expectations of what you have the time and energy to do, and what the person with dementia has the ability to do.
- Communicate with family and friends about how things may be different this year.
- Ask for help, remember your tiredness and agitation is contagious.
- Plan somewhere quiet where the person with dementia can have some “time out” from the family celebration – a quiet room.
- Give family and friends activities they can do with the person with dementia.
- Get family and friends to give you respite so that you can enjoy the Christmas season too.
- Ask family and friends to spend a little one-on-one time with the person with dementia.
- Let others know that the person with dementia may value gifts of company rather than material goods.
- Bring back old memories maybe with a song, photographs or memory box.
- Have no expectations.