The holidays are always stressful, but when you add caregiving to the mix, the season for love and sharing can become almost too much to handle. When I find myself sitting with my hands tightly clenched or realize I am grinding my teeth until my jaw aches, I know I need to find a way to relieve the stress. Worse yet, I occasionally find myself giving into the strain of caregiving and taking it out on my loved ones. You may snap at your spouse or kids over things that you would normally overlook. Sometimes we just can’t cope with one more disruption or request for our already scattered attention.

If you’re like me, you do not want this special time of year to be overshadowed by unrealistic expectations and unnecessary pressure. This is when we must take a good hard look at our life and how we are coping with the added responsibilities of caring for another person. I rely on the “six S’s” to bring my life back into perspective during the holidays, and it also works year-round.

The Six S’s

  1. Select: Try to identify non-negotiable tasks that must be done for the holidays and let the rest go.
  2. Simplify: Get yourself organized to save steps and time. Make lists of things you need to do and set deadlines for shopping, decorating, wrapping, mailing, cooking etc. Spreading your progress out in smaller chunks over a few weeks will help you stay ahead of the game and feel less overwhelmed.
  3. Seek: Look into all options that can help minimize your work load. Consider shopping online instead of in stores, choosing the giftwrap option to save on time, getting a pre-decorated tree, or ordering all or part of your holiday meal from your local grocery store.
  4. Strengthen: Find inner strength through eating well, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, going to church, journaling and other healthy stress-reduction techniques. You’ll be better equipped to handle anything if you’re feeling physically and mentally well.
  5. Silence: Take a few moments of quiet time each day to relax, read or meditate. Some peaceful me time will calm and refresh you.
  6. Savor: Look for ways to share some quality moments with your loved ones. If you’ve prioritized and simplified your responsibilities, you should be able to take time to sit back and enjoy your accomplishments with the important people in your life.

My Plan for a Simple, Cheerful Holiday Season

I’ve been brainstorming ways that I can make the holidays happy for Charlie and easier on me, but in doing so, it seems that simplicity and tradition always wind up being at odds. Regardless, I’ve used the six S’s to help me make some changes this year.

A big Christmas tree will not be part of our décor. I have opted for a small tabletop tree with colorful decorations and lights. This means there’s no furniture to move around and no cleaning up sap and pine needles when the holidays are over.

The mandatory eight different kinds of Christmas cookies have been whittled down to our two favorites. The other recipes have been passed down to younger generations so they can use them to create their own family traditions.

Then there are the gifts. Between us, Charlie and I have seven children, twelve grandchildren and five great grandchildren, many of whom also have spouses. Finding and exchanging presents for a group that size has become physically and financially impossible. Things reach a point where you have to draw a line and say no more. My Christmas shopping days are over, except for a few necessary items for Charlie. Thanks to the Internet, I can purchase those things from the comfort of my easy chair.

I used to stress over mailing upwards of 100 Christmas cards each year, but not anymore. The list has been whittled down to a handful of people who live far away from us and just need to know that we are still alive and relatively well. The lengthy, handwritten notes have given way to a typed, one-size-fits-all letter to keep our distant friends and family informed. Emily Post probably wouldn’t approve, but then she never walked in my shoes.

I haven’t quite decided how to deal with Christmas dinner yet. In recent years, we have gone to a daughter’s home to celebrate with a large group of extended family, but Charlie’s dementia and deteriorating mobility have become a problem. Their homes are not handicap-accessible, nor do I expect them to make changes to accommodate us.

I think our holiday dinner will consist of lobster tails or filet mignon, cooked by me with a few of Charlie’s favorite sides, and the mandatory pumpkin pie. Thanks to Skype, we will be able to chat with the grandchildren and share their holiday excitement from a distance.

We will sit in our living room, listen to some Christmas carols, watch the cardinals and chickadees flying in for a holiday feast at the birdfeeder and, hopefully, enjoy a few snowflakes to make the scene complete. The day will be as stress free as possible and give Charlie and I a chance to appreciate the time we have left together. (And I’ll be sure and pop a vitamin D supplement to ensure that no depressing thoughts get in the way of what should be a happy day.)

Select, simplify, seek, strengthen, silence and savor are my keys to taking the stress out of the holidays.