When you think about giving back this holiday season, remember those persons serving as caregivers for the loved ones in your life.  Caregiving is one of life’s highest honors, but on the flip side it can also be physically and emotionally draining, especially during the holidays.  The added stress of having to balance holiday activities like shopping and visiting relatives and friends with caregiving responsibilities can be overwhelming, and may leave caregivers feeling frustrated, isolated, depressed and exhausted.

Caregiving today affects almost everyone – over 43 million adults in the United States have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the past 12 months.

Bring a little joy to the world

There are a number of things you can do to help ease the burden for the caregivers in your life.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Ask how you can help – This is the simplest approach. Begin by recognizing the caregiver’s role and ask about her or his concerns during the holiday season.  If you encounter resistance because the caregiver doesn’t feel that responsibilities can be set aside, make some suggestions about ways you can help without causing more stress.  For example, you could talk about family activities –are they able to attend, is the timing convenient, is there something you could do to help them prepare?
  • Provide respite – Caregivers have their own holiday tasks to accomplish and more importantly, they need time to take care of themselves.  You could sit with a loved one for a few hours or help schedule in-home care for a period of time.  Perhaps spending time with the caregiver is the break they need.  Get together for coffee and companionship.
  • Offer your services – With numerous responsibilities, there are bound to be a few things on the back burner that you could help a caregiver with.  Ask about needed home repairs, installing equipment to make their life easier or making a trip to the store or post office.  Could you assist with shopping or addressing holiday cards and getting them in the mail?
  • Simplify traditions – Just because you’ve always done something doesn’t mean that the tradition must continue exactly as it was. Adapting activities to make them less stressful – and more enjoyable – is a win-win for everyone involved.  Plan ahead to ensure the space and timing is conducive. Something as easy as eating earlier in the day could benefit transportation arrangements, or keep caregiving needs on schedule.

Don’t limit recognition of the caregiver to the holidays.  The fact that you care enough to recognize the unique situation, the work performed, and to reach out may be enough to give the caregiver joy.  A burden shared is a burden lightened.

Keep up the good work

While holiday stress happens once a year, family caregivers are at an increased risk for burnout, depression, substance abuse, chronic illness and a host of other maladies year round.  In addition, there are a variety of caregiving situations that require special support, including long-distance caregiving and those caregivers in the sandwich generation who are caring for parents and their own children at the same time.

Check out the following tips and resources to see how you can support caregivers:

Long Distance Caregiving 

The Sandwich Generation

Finding and Choosing Respite Care Services

Caring for the Caregiver

10 Fast Facts About Caregivers