It’s not easy being a sandwich generation caregiver, especially during the holidays. How do you avoid burnout, organize your priorities, and create happy experiences for your aging parents, spouse, and children—and yourself, too? The good news is, it’s not impossible! We share some tips on how you can reduce holiday stress and enjoy time with those who depend on you.
What Causes Holiday Stress for Sandwich Generation Caregivers?
The holidays are stressful for many people, but if you are a caregiver in the “sandwich generation,” you face some unique challenges as you strive to make the holidays special for everyone in your circle of care.
You may be under stress from any of the following:
Extreme time constraints, such as:
- You need to be available at any given time for your parents.
You are struggling to balance caregiving with your employer’s expectations, your children’s school commitments and extra curricular activities, your spouse’s work schedule, and holiday events.
- You can’t seem to find time to plan meals, cook, bake, clean the house for guests, decorate, and buy gifts for everyone.
- You are worried about disappointing your children, parents, friends, and extended family, especially if this is your first holiday season caring for your aging parents.
- Caregiving is emotionally and physically draining. You’re worried about your parents and may be feeling a sense of loss, frustration, isolation, and loneliness. You may also be worried about the financial implications, especially if you’re helping to cover medical and healthcare costs.
- Dealing with changing family dynamics is hard. You’re adapting to the responsibilities of caregiving while your own children may be getting older and have varying needs.
Anyone with this many stresses and responsibilities is facing the possibility of burnout. So how do you manage this juggling act while staying sane and finding a way to enjoy the holidays? After all, they are supposed to be enjoyable, right?!
What Can Caregivers Do to Reduce Holiday Stress? Practical Tips
Luckily, there are several ways you can reduce holiday stress if you’re part of the sandwich generation.
Gently adjust your perspective on caregiving. This is easier said than done, but so helpful in the long run! Here are ways to do it:
- Practice gratitude. In the midst of a stressful day, gently nudge yourself to find something to be grateful for, such as the time you and your parents get to spend together.
- Accept the changes. Much peace can come through an act of acceptance. Acceptance will look a little different for everyone. For some people it may mean repeating a mantra when you feel overwhelmed, such as, “I choose to let go.” For others it may mean journaling, talking to a friend, or taking a walk to keep your mind from dwelling on what you want vs. how things are.
- Focus on what you can control. This is related to acceptance. You accept what can’t be changed, and then direct your focus to whatever is in your control, no matter how small or insignificant it seems. Whether it’s “I can clean this stack of dishes” or “I can enjoy time spent with my dad as we watch my daughter’s basketball game,” there is something you can control. Focusing on that will help you feel calmer, more empowered, and less overwhelmed.
- Remind yourself that this is a temporary situation. You may find peace in recognizing that you will not be in the sandwich generation forever. This is a season of life that you are in right now. Give yourself compassion and grace to get through this time.
Communicate and reach out.
- Set expectations. Communicate with your spouse, children, and other family members about holiday expectations and changes. Ask for help in areas they can assist with, such as decorating or cooking a meal or two for Mom and Dad. Even if you are nervous to bring it up, chances are, they will understand and support you. Talk to your parents, too, if you feel they can handle a discussion about making adjustments to holiday traditions to fit this season of life.
- Find support. Talk to someone about what you’re going through, whether it’s friends, a support group, a therapist, or a family member. If you can find someone who has cared for an aging parent or relative, it can be cathartic to share experiences and advice.
Trim your to-do list.
This may sound jarring at first, especially if you’ve got a well-oiled routine, but you should try to ask yourself: is everything on your to-do list necessary? Sometimes with a little creativity and a willingness to say no and ask for help, you can significantly lighten your load.
For example, can someone else host Thanksgiving dinner? Can you have a potluck-style brunch on Christmas so you don’t have to cook every dish? Can you and your spouse take turns attending your children’s events, at least through the holidays? Can another parent take over cookies for the bake sale, or can you pair up with someone? Can you cut back on decorations this year? Chances are, at least one of those answers is “yes.”
Get help when you need it.
Ask your family to help decorate the tree or hang lights outside. Look for local services that offer meal assistance or transportation for your parents (such as church groups, local charities, or programs like Meals on Wheels).
Freeze meals and even cookies when you can. This can really come in handy when you need food in a pinch or want to share a treat with your parent(s).
Here are some other ideas on how you can reduce your stress:
- Setting a holiday budget can reduce financial stress.
- Give gift cards if you don’t have much time to shop. They are easy and thoughtful!
- Exercise helps keep your mood up. It doesn’t take much commitment — you can benefit from as little as ten to fifteen minutes a day. In fact, you can work it into your daily routine: park farther away from the grocery store or take the stairs at work.
- You can’t please everyone, so don’t try! At the end of the day, you know what your priorities and obligations truly are.
- Take time for you, even if it’s just a few minutes a day.
- Try to get enough sleep! This is difficult but very important not only for your mood, stress level, health and wellbeing, but for your immune system during cold and flu season too.
Finally, set out intentionally to find a little joy each and every day. After all, that’s what the holidays are all about.
Oftentimes being a sandwich generation caregiver means helping your aging parent(s) declutter and downsize. This can be stressful and time-consuming, especially during the holidays. That’s why Caring Transitions is here to help! We will take care of the entire process from start to finish, so you and your parent(s) can focus on enjoying the holidays.