10 ways for caregivers to reduce holiday stress

Happy holidays! Thanksgiving is almost here! It’s almost inevitable that most of us feel more stressed during the holiday season. There’s always so much to do if you’re planning to get together with friends and family. And for those who are grieving or alone, the stress can be debilitating. If you’re a caregiver, you’re undoubtedly even more stressed.

The most important thing is to take care of YOU. If you get stressed and exhibit anxiety, those around you are going to feel it. It becomes a vicious cycle. You get stressed, and then the person you care for may get irritable, nervous, or anxious.

Make this your mantra: eat healthily, drink water, take a daily walk, and sleep well. It sounds easy, but how do you do that when your time is limited and you feel stretched in every which way.

Or how do you take care of yourself when you’re so depressed it’s hard to get out of bed? (This is a huge topic that I won’t address here, but you might want to read: Have you tried any of these natural ways to combat depression? https://barbracohn.2018/10/03/have-you-tried-any-of-these-natural-ways-to-combat-depression/

  1. Make a pot of soup that will last several days. Lentil, split pea, vegetable, chicken, butternut squash, and tomato soups are chockful of goodness. See below for a yummy recipe.
  2. Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water each day? According to an article that recently appeared in the New York Times, the answer is no. It depends on a lot of things: how big you are, how active you are, and how much liquid you’re getting through foods and other drinks such as tea and coffee. I had always thought that caffeinated tea and coffee dehydrate you. But according to this article they don’t. Juicy fruits such as oranges, melons, and pears (not to mention summer fruits), contribute water to your total intake. Just make sure that you’re drinking enough so that you don’t get to the point where you feel thirsty or where your lips feel dry.
  3. Exercise is vital to overall health and stress reduction. Whether you live in a cold or hot climate, dress appropriately and find at least 15 minutes a day to get outside and walk.
  4. Show your care partner (the person you care for) a bit of extra attention if you’re able to. Take them for a drive to see holiday lights. Have an afternoon tea in a charming café. Visit your care partner’s best friend, or have them come for a visit. Buy a new CD of their favorite music and play it for them. Light candles at dinnertime. Have them help you with decorations, if possible.
  5. Plan a visit from a music therapist or animal-assisted (AAT)therapist, or find out where you might find them visiting facilities.
  6. Aromatherapy can be a resource of comfort to you and your care partner by providing an easy, natural way to reduce stress and anxiety and uplift mood. To make sure you are buying a pure essential oil and not synthetic fragrance oil, look for the botanical name of the plant and the phrase “pure essential oil” on the label. Essential oils can be used in a wide variety of ways, but the most common methods are by inhalation or topical use, such as lotion, body oil, or in a bath. My favorite method which I used for my husband is an electric micro-mist diffuser, and available by mail order or at health food stores. These disperse essential oils into the air in a cool mist or can be gently warmed in a candle-heated aroma lamp that releases the aroma into the air. Another easy way is to add 30-40 drops of essential oils to a 4-ounce water spritz bottle. Favorite oils for reducing stress and anxiety include: lavender, Holy basil, clary sage, geranium, rose, and ylang ylang. Citrus oils uplift the mind and emotions, relieve stress and anxiety, and are useful for appetite support: bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, and orange.
  7. Making art can help you regain a sense of balance. If you’re feeling out of control, and are inclined to create art, set aside a table just for art and make it sacred. Gather your materials and have them easily accessible so that the space is prepared for you to focus on the “now” without a lot of distraction. It’s amazing how making art can melt stress once you get into the creative zone. The same goes for playing an instrument. It doesn’t matter what is going on in the world or how I feel, when I sit down at the piano, everything becomes part of the past and I’m able to enjoy the moment. It actually becomes a meditation.
  8. Speaking of meditation, the buzzword these days is “mindfulness.” There are numerous apps and classes that can teach you how to stay present and act with kindness and compassion. You can also take a meditation class such as Transcendental Meditation, where you learn how to meditate twice a day for 20 minutes. TM has been proven to reduce blood pressure, and help the body recharge by reducing stress. It’s easy and anyone who can think a thought can do it.
  9. Keep it simple. You don’t have to make an elaborate feast (unless you’re a cook and love to do that) to make the holidays special. If you want to make it really easy on yourself, order a meal for the number of people at your table. Grocery stores like Whole Foods provide dinners that are yummy and healthy (and yes, a little expensive). Or make the essentials and buy a pie.
  10. This holiday season stop and smell the flavors and enjoy the little things: a walk in the woods, a new baby’s smile, a toddler’s romp, a new sweater, or a pair of socks. Get out the photo albums and reminisce. Watch funny YouTube videos of animals and children. Watch a comedy together. Borrow your neighbor’s dog to take on a walk. Walk in the snow (please wear treaded boots so you don’t fall). Enjoy the moment because time passes quickly and what’s here this year may not be here next year.

While most families are hoping to get together for the first time in a couple of years due to COVID, it’s important to keep abreast of the latest health and safety directives in your area. The number of COVID cases is on the rise again. Please wear a mask when flying, traveling by train or bus, and when you’re in crowded places such as a grocery store. Get a COVID booster and seasonal flu shot. If you feel sick, please stay home! There’s nothing like exposing your loved ones to an illness and having them get sick to make you feel guilty and everyone stressed.

One of my favorite soup recipes to enjoy throughout the winter

Pasta y Fagioli—a one-pot meal, 4 servings

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 2 stalks of celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 leek, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces (discard the top, tough stalk or keep to use when making vegetable broth)
  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Herbs of your choice: basil or thyme
  • 1 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 quart of stock –vegetable or chicken. Add water if needed to cover the veggies
  • 2 cans of white beans (navy, butter, or cannellini)
  • 8 oz of pasta of your choice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a soup pot on medium. Add the onion and cook for about 5 mins., occasionally stirring. Add the other vegetables, until they begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the broth and tomatoes and their juice.

Separately, cook the amount of pasta you want to put in the soup. Keep the pasta separate or it will turn to mush. Add a serving of pasta to the soup and top with grated cheese. Serve with bread and salad. Delicious!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.