Reducing stress makes holiday season enjoyable

By Carol Higgins Taylor,
Posted Dec. 17, 2008, at 6:32 p.m.

Is it just me or is the month flying by? Running out of time to do everything you want — and need — to do can cause a seemingly insurmountable amount of stress. For caregivers who have even more responsibilities on their plates, it can be overwhelming.

“As the holiday season approaches, many seniors and their caregivers begin to feel sad or even depressed,” said Dottie VanHorn, family caregiver specialist at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. “It’s not easy to face this joyful time of year when you just can’t get into the spirit of things.”

Sometimes the culprit is worrying that the holiday won’t be as we want it to be, or won’t live up to everyone’s expectation. And after all, it only happens once a year so we have to get it right. Right?

Not necessarily, says VanHorn.

“We’re assisted in our fantasies by media, holiday songs and advertisements that paint pictures of the perfect holiday season,” she said. “We want and expect the Norman Rockwell setting and can become depressed when that doesn’t happen.”

And while being with family can be wonderful, it also can make you feel like you are in a pressure cooker.

“People have idealized visions of what should and should not happen during the holiday season,” said VanHorn. “Imperfect people do not always live up to those visions of the perfect family.”

Accepting this and moving on can reduce stress, keeping the holidays cheerful.

For some families, a diagnosis of dementia in a family member can add another layer to holiday stress.

“It’s hard to accept the fact that your celebration will be different as your loved one’s disease progresses,” said VanHorn.

VanHorn offers tips that can help:

• Focus on people as they are now, not how they were in the past.

• Simplify activities and rituals.

• Limit your loved one’s exposure to large gatherings, which can be frightening to a person with dementia.

• Keep in mind that many people with dementia enjoy listening to the music of the season.

• Keep decorations safe and simple and avoid those that are dangerous, poisonous or pose a choking risk.

• Maintain the person’s routine to decrease the chance of overstimulation or confusion.

Another stressor at holiday time can be finances. We all want to be as generous as possible with our beloved family and friends but let’s face it, times are tough all over.

Spending money or using credit cards to buy that perfect gift may feel good at the time, but when the bill comes in, good feelings turn to bad. Avoid this scenario and in January you won’t have to worry about bills piling up. For seniors living on limited incomes, overspending can be particularly dangerous.

Here are more tips to help:

• Make a budget and stick to it.

• Give gifts of time rather than buying something.

• Consider sharing copies of family photos. It is very inexpensive to reproduce them for other family members and they make nice, thoughtful gifts.

• Collect family recipes to share.

• Make a gift to a favorite charity in the family’s name or start a family gift exchange.

And have a safe and happy holiday season.

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If you like music and would like to get away after surviving the winter, think about a Collette Vacation to Branson, Mo., the live-music-show capital of the world. Eastern Area Agency on Aging will host an informational presentation about the trip at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 10. The Branson Musical Getaway is scheduled for May 21-26. Refreshments will be served. Call 941-2865 for reservations.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. E-mail Higgins Taylor at chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, e-mail info@eaaa.org or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.

http://bangordailynews.com/2008/12/17/news/bangor/reducing-stress-makes-holiday-season-enjoyable/ printed on September 16, 2014