During a season that’s supposed to be full of merriment, hospice caregivers can feel stressed, exhausted, and anxious. Caregiver burnout is real, and the holidays don’t offer guaranteed relief — they often bring added pressure of unrealistic expectations. How, then, can family caregivers engage in healthy self-care that ushers in comfort and peace?

When it’s Time to Take a Break

In the US, more than 2.3 million caregivers are assisting adults in their last year of life. A majority of hospice patients (who have a life expectancy of six months or less) desire to spend their final weeks at home surrounded by loved ones. As a result, family members often act as the patient’s primary daily caregiver, with regular visits from hospice nurses and support team members.

Caregiver burnout is marked by sleep trouble (too much or too little), fatigue, hopelessness, lack of energy, neglecting personal physical and emotional needs, headaches, stomach aches, difficulty coping, self-medicating, mood swings, and a lowered resistance to illness, among other symptoms. When these signs are prevailing and persistent, it’s time to seek help.

Caregivers are accustomed to being the “strong one,” but it’s vital to communicate your own needs to friends and family. Additionally, providers like Heart to Heart Hospice offer support for caregivers in the form of mental and emotional health services, counseling resources, and even short-term respite care for those who qualify. 

The holidays aren’t the only time to get help. It’s wise to evaluate your stress levels and make space for regular self-care and support. 

Making Holidays Special

The holidays understandably feel different when caring for a loved one on hospice. Some families want to block out the festivities completely, while others want to check off every holiday tradition. While neither may be realistic, you can adjust your expectations and find ways to make the season meaningful.

Here are a few ideas for scaled-back holiday memory-making:

  • Set up your traditional Christmas tree or a smaller one in your loved one’s room. To save yourself energy, delegate this to another family member or friend.
  • If you attended holiday programs together in the past, watch a favorite holiday movie or concert at home.
  • Relieve yourself from the pressure of buying gifts. Delegate it or simply don’t do it — your loved ones will understand.
  • Make (or buy) a special meal or holiday drink, like hot cider, to share.
  • Share stories and look at photos of favorite holiday memories.
  • Listen to holiday music.

Simple Self-Care Ideas

Small acts of kindness to yourself go a long way in the life of a caregiver. Give yourself the gift of accepting help and do something that brings you joy. Pamper yourself with these simplified acts of self-care over the holidays:

Remember, if someone offers to relieve you for a few hours, say yes! And if they don’t offer, ask. You may look like you’re handling the stress like a hero, so they don’t know how to offer specific help. Leave the guilt behind; you are only a phone call away. Go somewhere to rekindle your festive spirit, like looking at holiday lights. Avoid noisy or overly crowded places, which may cause undue stress.

Finally, expect anticipatory grief, knowing this may be your last holiday season together. Don’t ignore your sadness, but make space for it by crying, talking to a friend or counselor, or journaling your thoughts.

Sharing one last holiday with your loved one is a gift, and infusing some self-care into your schedule can make a huge difference. Happy holidays and thank you to family caregivers!