Navigating and Reducing Caregiver Burnout During the Holidays

Coping with cancer during the holidays

As a child, I used to look forward to the holidays with delight and anticipation. I loved decorating the tree, making cookies with my Mom, and opening presents. It was a carefree time when school was out and sweets were plenty! As an adult, I looked forward to the holidays for different reasons. It was a time off work when I could relax with my family and eat and drink with abandon. But as an adult, the season was less carefree. There were travel plans to make and presents to buy. It was sometimes hectic and stressful.  

The holidays took on a totally different feel the year my husband was diagnosed with cancer. We could no longer relax in the same way with this disease. We couldn’t eat and drink with abandon. There was too much heaviness and consequence. 

The holidays are always a time filled with a lot of emotion. For many, they are a joyful time when you see family and friends. For others, holidays can be challenging and emotionally draining. Yet most of us feel pressured to make this time live up to our childhood ideals and society’s expectations. If you’re experiencing this, keep reading for my best tips for reducing caregiver burnout during the holidays and learning how to navigate this season.

3-Step Strategy for Reducing Caregiver Burnout During the Holidays

Regardless of how you feel about this time of year, caregiving during the holidays adds another layer of difficulty. You’re not alone if you’re feeling sad, stressed, or overwhelmed just thinking about the upcoming family get-togethers. Follow this three-step strategy for reducing caregiver burnout during the holidays, and you will be sure to make this time meaningful no matter the circumstances. 

1. Make Space For All Your Emotions

You don’t have to pretend to feel joyful this holiday season! Seriously! And that doesn’t mean you will be a Scrooge, either. This time of year is often filled with pressure to be grateful and joyful. However, if your partner has cancer, you may feel a lot of sadness and loss. Yet, you don’t want to bring everyone down, so you plaster on a smile and “fake it” for the sake of others. 

Nobody wants to be a Scrooge during the holidays but trying to suppress how you feel rarely works for long. You may be judging your negative emotions and feeling bad for feeling bad. You may even start feeling guilty that you aren’t upbeat or resentful of others’ carefree joy. All this judgment and pretending will leave you exhausted and feeling worse! This is no fun. 

There is another way. You can be honest with how you feel and not bring everyone down. Consider that you can open up and acknowledge more than one emotion at a time. Acknowledging your sadness doesn’t mean you have to give in to it and lay on the couch all day. You can give yourself permission to be sad this time of year and still go about your day. At the same time, you can be open to seeing what other emotions you can be open to. Perhaps gratitude or love? 

Be Open to Many and Any Emotions

As humans, we are capable of having more than one emotional experience at a time. Try acknowledging what you’re feeling and be open to what else you want to feel. You can feel sad and still be present. You can feel loss and still be grateful. By being open to and making space for all of the emotions of this time, you will be honoring yourself and what’s true for you. When we are open and authentic, it’s much easier to connect with those we love. 

2. Let Go of Expectations

Throw out all your images of what the holidays are “supposed” to be like. You may be used to always doing certain things and the holidays looking a particular way, but your loved one’s illness can change everything. It’s okay if things look different this year. Let go of expectations for yourself and any pressure you feel to make this time extra special. 

All these beliefs about the holidays being special and magical can weigh us down. If you are focused on trying to create this magic, it can be easy to lose sight of what matters most about this time: love and connection! So, if you just don’t have the energy for the “usual” stuff, allow yourself to do things totally different this year. That might look like skipping some things altogether or rethinking other things. It might mean saying no to invitations and events you don’t feel up to attending. Give yourself permission to do things differently this year.  

Ask for Help

If there are certain traditions you want to uphold, but don’t feel you have the energy for, ask for help! The holidays are an excellent time to practice the skill of asking for and receiving help. Even if you’re used to doing all the holiday shopping or cooking, things have changed. You need people now more than ever, and the holiday season is a great time to lean on your support system

3. Be Intentional

So often, we head into this time weighed down with unquestioned expectations only to feel frustrated and disappointed. This year, decide in advance the results you want for this season. You can apply some results-oriented thinking. I know that may sound very businesslike, but it’s not. It just means beginning with the end in mind. Decide in advance what you want out of this holiday season. Do you want to be present? Do you want to feel love and gratitude? Do you want to feel truly connected? Even if you have decided to forego many of your standard holiday traditions, you can still make this time special.

Decide what you really want for this time of year. Then set your focus on that and be willing to be open to all the rest. If you want to be present with the family, then maybe the family all gathers together at the hospital. If you want to feel love and gratitude, find one small thing to love or appreciate in someone else each day. 

Appreciate the Little Things

This is the perfect time of year to practice noticing small, beautiful moments. Even during the worst of times, there are always moments of love, gratitude, and beauty. You have to be willing to look for them. You have to be present to experience them.   

How Do You Cheer Up Someone with a Serious Illness?

Reducing caregiver burnout during the holidays can be particularly tough because it’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” Yet, your spouse who is sick might not be feeling too wonderful. Whether they’re feeling weak from treatments or just not up for much, that’s okay! 

The best way to cheer up someone with illness is to acknowledge how they are feeling and let them be where they are. Often we want others to feel good, so we can also feel good. But when we are feeling down, what we want most is just to be seen and acknowledged and our feelings validated. So instead, offer love and connection. You don’t have to say anything or try to put a happy spin on things; just be there. Offer a hug or a squeeze of the hand. True human connection is one of the best gifts you can give! 

Find Support During the Holidays and Beyond with Coaching for You When You are Caregiver for Your Spouse

The holidays are just one of the many challenging things you must navigate when you are caregiving for your spouse. Whether you want support during this time of year or someone by your side throughout this journey, I can help! Reach out today to learn more about my coaching programs for you when you are a spousal caregiver. 

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