caregiver in striped shirt kneels and puts on socks for another adult sitting in a chairShare on Pinterest
2548497-how to Care for Yourself as a Caregiver During Holiday Season Design by Andrew Nguyen 2548497-how to Care for Yourself as a Caregiver During Holiday Season

For years, Nicole Brackett watched her mother dutifully care for her grandmother, who had a heart attack shortly after her grandfather died.

Brackett’s mother shopped for her grandmother, bathed her, and handled her finances. She also made sure Brackett and her siblings had everything they needed.

Now, Brackett and her siblings help care for their mother. Though independent, she needs assistance shopping and managing appointments with healthcare professionals.

Sometimes Brackett sees her mother get down around the holidays. She’s still grieving the loss of her mother—Brackett’s grandmother—and is constantly adjusting to needing more help herself.

It’s challenging for Brackett to watch at times. However, she’s determined to help her mother however she can.

“I can see more of my grandmother in my mother as she ages,” Brackett says. “Like a good daughter who is very passionate about person-centered and directed care, I will be there for her too.”

Brackett is the care delivery and education manager at Homewatch CareGivers.

The experience of watching her mother help her grandmother and now taking on the role herself helps her relate to caregivers and clients, particularly around the holidays.

Brackett isn’t alone.

A 2020 report by The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) indicates that nearly 1 in 5 Americans are caring for an adult with medical or functional needs.

Nearly 1 in 4 Americans report that caregiving makes their health worse.

Brackett says the effects of caregiving can be particularly pronounced during the holiday season.

“Caregiving is already a huge task,” Brackett says. “There is no need for you to agree to help clean, decorate, bake, or host the holiday celebration as well.”

In other words, there’s a great deal of emphasis on the holidays as the season of giving, but caregivers already give so much of themselves during the year.

Brackett and others like her say it’s essential to give back to yourself. Learn how below.

Though there aren’t many studies on how caregiving affects mental health during the holidays, research generally points to elevated stress levels and risks for physical health issues.

A 2021 review indicated that older caregivers were more susceptible to chronic illness and lacked time for self-care. Caregiving may also include children, including adult children, with developmental disabilities.

A 2020 review suggested mothers of children with developmental disabilities experienced poorer health than mothers with children who didn’t have developmental disabilities.

A 2021 study of more than 4,000 caregiver-patient dyads in Italy during the COVID-19 lockdowns noted that about one-third experienced four or more stress symptoms, while 90 percent experienced at least one stress symptom.

Consider all of that, then add in the holiday hustle.

“For caregivers specifically, that chaos may be amplified by the pressure to recreate traditions and make the season feel special while also maintaining the day-to-day responsibilities of caring for a family member,” says Anisha Patel-Dunn, D.O., psychiatrist and chief medical officer of LifeStance Health.

It can be especially hard for caregivers to think about themselves. Caring for someone, perhaps a parent who once cared for them, can feel all-consuming.

“Typically, caregivers are [empathetic] and also feel as if they have a responsibility and duty to care for their loved one, leaving themselves last,” says Gabrielle Juliano-Villani MSW, LCSW, the owner of GJV Consulting & Training.

She says it’s important not to leave self-care off your holiday wishlist. Ideally, you’re making yourself a priority year-round too.

Though it may seem selfish, self-care isn’t just for your benefit. It will help the person you’re caring for too.

Burnout isn’t something that happens overnight,” Juliano-Villani says. “If you’re too stressed or become burned out, you’re at a higher risk for making mistakes and getting sick yourself, leaving you unable to care for your loved one.”

Self-care can feel like another item on your seemingly-endless to-do list, but there are ways to simplify it this holiday season and beyond.


The holidays can feel like an endless stream of parties, present shopping, and hosting.

The people vying for your time typically don’t mean harm. They likely love you and want to see you. However, it’s essential to admit that you can’t do everything.

“Don’t try to over-do anything or over-commit,” says Mike Barnes, who founded Parenting Aging Parents with his wife, Kim. “That way you’re able to do the things you’ve agreed to with joy and don’t wear yourself out in the process.”

Patel-Dunn says making a list of your tasks and prioritizing them can prevent you from over-committing.

“During the holidays, it’s important to take stock of your time, prioritize the things that feel most important, and table some of the things that feel like they can wait,” she says.

You can journal your priority list, and Patel-Dunn recommends reaching out to a trusted, objective friend if you need a gut check.

Communicate boundaries

Family and friends may expect you to carry on with old traditions even if you have new responsibilities as a caregiver.

However, they’re likely not intentionally trying to increase your stress levels.

“Your family or friends can’t support you if they don’t know what’s going on,” Juliano-Villani says. “If you’re hiding how stressed you are, they’ll never know unless you tell them.”

Though it may be hard, experts share it’s essential to communicate your needs and limits, ideally before the holiday season begins.

“Have a talk with anyone involved,” says Kim Barnes, co-founder of Parenting Aging Parents. “That helps manage expectations. No one gets their feelings hurt or assumes things should go a certain way.”

Suppose you’ve been invited to a party you’ve always attended and know it might disappoint the host if you can’t make it this year. Kim says a short-and-sweet explanation will suffice, and what you tell the person when you RSVP can be based on your comfort level.

For example, you could say, “I’m so sad we can’t attend this year. I’m limiting activities right now so I can help take care of Mom.”

If you’d prefer to share less, Kim suggests saying, “I’m so sad to miss the party this year. I have a conflict, but please invite me again next year.”


Even if you plan and prioritize, life can become stressful. Surprise invitations come up, and even tasks you thought you’d enjoy, like shopping, can wind up feeling overwhelming.

Not to mention, other unexpected issues—like a week with your loved one in the hospital—can leave you unable to check items off even your pared-down to-do list.

Patel-Dunn suggests frequently checking in with yourself and your feelings and scaling back where you can.

For example, she says you can skip the mall and order gift cards online. If the big holiday light display isn’t in the cards this year, that’s OK too.

“Curate your decorations to keep it simple,” Patel-Dunn says. “Enjoy more elaborate holiday decorations by visiting a mall or lights display.”

Bonus: Your electric bill will be lower in January.

Be flexible

You may find you have more emotional capacity than you thought. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plan if it will make you happy.

“We all know plans don’t always go as planned, so sometimes you just have to go with it,” Mike says.

Go ahead and stay a little later at a gathering if you’re having a good time.

You may cherish the extra time you got to spend with someone you don’t see often or whose health is declining.

Share the caregiver role

You can share more than just meals and merriment this time of year.

If out-of-town siblings or family members are going to be nearby, don’t be afraid to ask them to lend a hand and take over some of your responsibilities.

“If you’re feeling the impact of caregiver burnout, reach out to a friend or family member and see if they can step in to help for an afternoon or a weekend,” Patel-Dunn says.

You may feel like you’re copping out, but Juliano-Villani advises caregivers to ditch the guilt.

“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness,” she says. “In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s knowing yourself and what you can hand off to someone else. Rest is part of being productive too. It’s not being lazy.”

Keep in touch with other family and friends

Even with the added social obligations, the holidays can feel isolating, particularly if you’re a caregiver.

You may feel like people can’t relate to your struggle.

Maintaining friendships and other personal relationships can help caregivers avoid loneliness and give them some semblance of normalcy.

“To avoid feelings of isolation and to also experience the holiday season for yourself, try to prioritize reaching out to friends as much as possible,” Patel-Dunn says. “You may also find comfort in joining online support groups for caregivers where you can meet and connect with other individuals with your shared experience.”

De-stress in a way that works for you

Meditation, yoga, and journaling have become popular recommendations for self-care and destressing.

If they work for you, Kim says to go for it. However, it’s essential to customize your self-care time to your needs.

A 2021 review identified self-care needs for caregivers that include:

  • physical activity
  • social support
  • activism
  • legacy building

Kim also suggests:

  • reading
  • walking
  • listening to music

“Give yourself that gift, even if just for a few minutes,” Kim says. “When you’re recharged and reenergized, you’ll have more of yourself to give to others.”

In addition, a 2020 study suggested that mobile mental health apps can be an effective treatment method for caregivers.

Though caregiving can be isolating, you’re not alone.

Here are some useful resources to get the support your need:

Caregivers deserve to receive during the holiday season too. This time of year can be particularly stressful for individuals who already have so much on their plates.

Remember that it’s OK to say no, ask for help, and take time for yourself.

Not only is it OK. It’s essential—for you and those you care for.

Ready for a calm and stress-free holiday? Check out Healthline’s Season of Self-Care, your go-to destination for the latest must-have health and wellness gifts for your loved ones – and you!

Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in health and parenting writing. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape, and Inside Lacrosse. She is a co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.