The holidays can be stressful under ideal circumstances,

The holidays can be a tough time of year, particularly for caregivers. There are more activities and expectations, and you are supposed to be happy because, hey, it’s the holidays! But that’s just not the reality for many people. But, as I have learned, when you’re caring for a loved one, it’s even more important to take time to enjoy the season.

After my husband Don suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2005 that then left him paralyzed from the neck down and forced to live on a respirator, my first few Christmases were incredibly difficult. The holidays seemed to highlight the fact that our lives had changed so dramatically and would never be the same again.

Here are a few things I learned to help me get through the holiday season, and actually start enjoying them again:

  1. Change your focus:
    Focusing on what life used to be like, or what you wished you had will only leave you feeling sad and unfulfilled. Instead, focus on the people and blessings you do have. It may sound small or insignificant, but by making an effort to quickly change your focus when you’re sad will help you change your attitude and genuinely improve your life. It did for me.
  2. Invite people to come to you:
    As a full-time family caregiver, it’s normal to feel like you’re missing out on fun events or time with friends; or worse, that people have forgotten about you. The solution: don’t wait for people to call you, reach out to them first. Also, consider having people to come to you. I would invite friends over for Christmas cocktails or a holiday visit, and have our grandchildren over to make gingerbread houses. To remove the burden of having to cook or buy food, you can host a potluck or ask people to bring their own drinks. Scheduled visits are a great way to enjoy time with friends and loved ones while enjoying the holidays more.
  3. Schedule time for yourself:
    We know that it’s important to take care of ourselves, but for caregivers it can be easier said than done. A caregiver’s focus is constantly on the patient and doing anything for yourself can make you feel guilty. With all of the activities around the holidays, it can make self-care even more difficult to do. One tool that helped me take better care of myself—particularly during the holidays—was to schedule time for self-care. I’d let my husband know that, for example, on Tuesday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. was my time, even if I was just curling up by the fireplace to read a book or watch a movie. Especially during the holiday season when its easy to get run down, it’s important to take time to rest and recharge.

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