6 tips for caregivers during the holidays

December 21, 2023 | by Endeavor Health

Caregiving for a loved one battling cancer can be stressful in the best of times. And the stress is often magnified during the holidays and year-end season when calendars are more crowded and expectations to maintain festive traditions are high.

Caregivers accompanying patients to clinical appointments don’t typically express how they are feeling, or reveal their own worries or stresses, said Endeavor Health Northwest Community Hospital hematology/oncology specialist Fatema Esmail, MD, but clinicians understand that caregivers play an important role in their patients’ health.

“People can get burned out with everything going on at this time of year and things that used to be enjoyable now just feel like an obligation,” said Dr. Esmail, who urged caregivers to get more comfortable with expressing their feelings and reaching out to others for help.

Consider these six tips for caregiving during the holidays:

  1. Accept help. “Please ask for help and be open with your family and friends about what’s going on,” said Dr. Esmail. “There are lots of ways for people to lighten the load. Even if they can’t help with physical caregiving there are other things they can do.”


  2. Eat healthy and get sleep. Caregivers can feel pressed for time, struggling with a lack of sleep and depression, which can lead to their own health issues. It’s important to try and maintain healthy habits despite the whirl of activities and caregiving responsibilities, said Dr. Esmail. “Try to avoid skipping meals just because you don’t have time. And find nutritional snacks. It’s ok to splurge a little during the holidays but try to stick to a healthy eating plan and not overindulge in alcohol or other unhealthy habits,” said Dr. Esmail, who warned that those patterns can take a bigger toll over time.


  3. Take a walk. Finding time for exercise or even short movement breaks can also help with feelings of stress and overwhelm, she said. “Anything is better than nothing; baby steps can lead to more. Take a walk around the block. Physical movement is good for the body and can help refocus the mind,” added Dr. Esmail. Getting outside, even for short walks, is important, and this can be a time for others to step in and stay with the patient.


  4. Practice relaxation techniques. Meditation and breathing exercises can be very valuable and help to encourage a sense of calm and focus.


  5. Be aware of signs of stress. Recognizing signs of mounting stress is key to getting help before it becomes a much bigger issue. Constant worry, sleeping too much or not enough, becoming easily triggered or angry, frequent headaches or other pains, reliance on alcohol or drugs including prescription medications are some signs that stress and anxiety are becoming real problems and can increase risk of major health problems.


  6. Do what works for your family. While holiday traditions are important to many families, Dr. Esmail encourages people to “tailor the holidays to what’s going on in your lives right now, focus on the present moment.” People going through cancer treatment may not need or want all the activities they might otherwise enjoy.

We know that patients worry about their caregivers, whether it’s an adult child, partner, spouse or close friend, even if the caregiver doesn’t directly express their feelings. “Most patients do realize the toll it takes on their loved ones,” said Dr. Esmail.

“It’s not easy, there are a lot of emotional and physical demands on caregivers, but it’s essential to take care of yourself. If you don’t have friends and family to lean on there are respite services and resources that can provide help,” added Dr. Esmail.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.

Learn more about cancer support services at Endeavor Health Cancer Institute.

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