How to Make the Holidays Less Stressful

How to Make the Holidays Less Stressful and More Enjoyable

By Terri Murphy


I’ve always loved the Holidays – the gathering of family and friends, the traditions, the presents!  However, caring for aging loved ones either in their homes or in a facility can change the way you celebrate your Holidays dramatically.  Though initially difficult and emotional, I have found that by changing your mindset – looking at it as creating new “traditions” rather than dwelling on how things “used to be” – and some advanced planning, the “new” holidays have created some good memories too.  And you can feel a lot less stressed and guilty.


If you have taken on caregiving responsibilities, have a loved one in an assisted living community or nursing home, or are simply beginning to realize that your parents are aging and may not be around for  many more holidays, here are a few tips that will help make the holidays happier, less stressful, and preserve family traditions.

 –Whether you’re going to your aging loved ones home or they are coming to yours, the holidays are a wonderful opportunity to open the lines of communication and learn more about your family history. When the group is gathered, encourage each person, even the youngest child to share their favorite holiday memories.  For example, ask them how they celebrated as children, what their favorite gift was and why, what is their favorite holiday memory, and what is their favorite food. Slow down the day.  Ask that only one person opens a present at a time.  It gives everyone the pleasure of seeing the gifts being opened and reduces the activity level which makes the atmosphere feel more relaxed.

-If your love one is coming to your home, keep in mind:

  • Too much noise, activity, and hustle and bustle can be overwhelming for the elderly. Set aside a “quiet place” where anyone can go to get away from the activity. 
  • Don’t over schedule the day. “Sharing” flows best during the down time.
  • Prepare as much as you can in advance so you have longer periods of “calm” time.
  • Put in those safety aids you’ve been thinking about (such as grab bars in the bathroom and/or lighting in dark hallways and stairs). 

If your loved one is coming to your home from an assisted living community or nursing home:

  • Confirm holiday meal times with the staff so that you can pick up your loved one before the meal has started and return them in time for the evening meal.
  • Make sure you have meds and (extra) supplies your loved one will need.
  • The elderly get cold more easily so suggest they dress in layers and bring an extra sweater. You may also want to have an extra sweater or blanket on hand at your house.

-If your loved one has dementia, it’s important to make the atmosphere as relaxed as possible – too much excitement can make them anxious and agitated.

  • Talk with your kids about your loved one’s situation (for example, they may not remember them or may have physical limitations or issues) and coach them on how to handle it.
  • If your loved one has an aide, decide in advance whether she will be needed for the day and make appropriate arrangements.
  • Allow family and friends to help you. If you don’t get any offers of help, ask for it.


-If you are visiting your loved one at an assisted living community or nursing home:

  • Unless you are planning to eat with them, confirm holiday meal times so that your visit doesn’t conflict.
  • If possible, arrive an hour or two before mealtime so you have an opportune time to leave.
  • Try to coordinate schedules with other family members who will also be visiting. You may want to plan the visits at different times so that your loved one has company throughout the day.
  • If you visit all at once, keep the atmosphere as calm as possible.
  • If you bring children, talk with them in advance and coach them on appropriate behavior.
  • Whether your children come or not, encourage them to make cards and gifts that can be hung or placed in the room.

-If your loved one is living in an assisted living community or nursing home and you can’t visit them, you might want to send a “Holiday in a Box”. It’s a fun way to share the holidays and the whole family can participate in its creation.

  • A Christmas box might contain a small artificial tree with all of the trimmings, and special ornaments, cards and gifts.
  • Include special “family tradition” items that will help them recall happy holiday memories.
  • Set up a time for a phone call that is good for both of you. If possible, call in the morning and early evening when they might be feeling lonely.
  • And, of course, make sure that everything arrives well in advance.


Most importantly, give yourself a gift.  Allow others to help and remember to be kind and gentle with yourself – you deserve it.