Greetings to all,

As a caregiver to someone with mental and cognitive injuries from war, I am always reminded of the need to adjust to a myriad of situations, from daily activities to holiday celebrations. In particular, I am learning to take things at a slow pace – that is, a pace that won’t cause my husband to become flustered by feeling the pressures of too many outside influences. As we approach the holiday season, I’m starting to plan for the stress as well as the joys ahead and hope that these reminders might be helpful to you as well.

As someone who suffers from PTSD and other cognitive injuries, my husband becomes uncomfortable easily: when his environment is unpredictable, chaotic, noisy, or seemingly out of his control, he shuts down completely. He withdraws and becomes uncommunicative, leaving those around him no way to reach him. Well, who wants that during the holidays, a time of cheer, giving, and fun? It’s a time to enjoy family and friends and an extended meal to celebrate life’s blessings. As in my case, caregivers of those with mental or cognitive injuries need to be aware of the kinds of triggers that might be unsettling for the care recipient and interrupt the calm and enjoyment of such festivities. Planning ahead is the best approach.

Keep things simple!
Keep holiday celebrations and activities as simple as possible. Doing so helps minimize stress for both the caregiver and the care recipient.

Consider attending or participating in a few local activities!
Consider attending or participating in a few local activities such as festivals of lights, neighborhood street festivals, singing groups, and music performances. But remember not to schedule too many!

Connect with other military caregivers!
You may also find support and relief by just talking with other caregivers online or by phone since they understand the issues you are facing better than most people. Look for a caregiver support group in your area and consider joining it to share the stress and emotions you are dealing with. Or, connect with the Military Veteran Caregiver Network’s (MVCN) holiday support group for military caregivers. There are two upcoming “caregiver only” holiday online chats:

Treat and pamper yourself!
Perhaps schedule a massage, manicure, or hair appointment if you can. Go to the gym, take a long walk with a friend, meet a friend for lunch, take a yoga class, meditate, or play a short game of tennis. Exercise has been proven to be a strong antidote to stress! Try to plan for at least some exercise every day, as doctors recommend.

Avoid malls and stores that are crowded as these can be quite stressful during the holidays!
While a lot of people enjoy shopping during the holiday season to get out of the house, enjoy the buzz of the season, and be among other people, many others find the crowds at malls and other shopping areas stressful and irritating. If so, you can always shop online for gifts, food, and other needs at this time to avoid extra stress. Plan ahead! Costco, Sam’s Club, Whole Foods, Honey Baked Hams, and Kroger are among the hundreds of stores that allow you to order items online and pick up at your convenience. It is often worth the extra money to have someone else do the cooking if things seem particularly stressful during a holiday.

Try to involve your care recipient in the holiday decorating activities!
See if your care recipient is willing to offer ideas for decorating. My husband and I have agreed on what to put where, which is quite helpful. I have a very limited amount of time to decorate, so I need to keep things simple and be sure that we agree on how we want the house to look.

Keep to your normal routine as much as possible!
Even though it might be appealing to try to get involved in many holiday activities, try not to overdo it! You might want to consider going to a holiday event alone if the opportunity presents itself and you can do so for a short period of time. I did this one year, and although I could stay only a short time, I very much appreciated the time with other people and the time on my own.

Keep holiday gatherings small!
While it might be wonderful, in theory, to invite a large number of friends and family members, this can be stressful for the care recipient. Discuss the situation with them and see what would make them most comfortable. Some people schedule small events but connect widely with family and friends via IMO, FaceTime, or other video platforms. Plan ahead for these activities if you choose to do them so as to not disappoint the care recipient if the people they want to connect with aren’t available.

Be aware of the kinds of decorations you use!
Persons who suffer from PTSD often overreact to sudden noises, such as those that occur when something falls or breaks, so keep in mind that glass ornaments and similar should be chosen with care to avoid breakage.

Is your loved one in the hospital or a nursing home facility?
If your loved one is in the hospital or a nursing home, check to see if it is possible to celebrate the holidays together. Doing so will make a world of difference to both the care recipient and you, as holidays can be quite lonely when experienced alone.  Ask the facility if you can join your care recipient, and if the hospital or residence schedules holiday activities for patients that you can participate in.

Remember to ask for help!
Ask family and friends to help if you find that your caregiving responsibilities are starting to overwhelm you and are a concern for the person in your care. Reach out ahead of time to see who might be available at a moment’s notice or for a scheduled respite. The holiday season can be a great time for you to get respite and rest for yourself! Ask someone to stay with your loved one —and YOU go!

Other tips can be found at USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s .

I send warmest holiday greetings to each of you and all blessings for the year ahead— good health, understanding, joy, friendship, and love.

XO, Precious

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