Nativity Scene made by residents at Royd Court
Nativity Scene made by residents at Royd Court

Christmas is wonderful, but it can be a hugely stressful time.  So we thought we’d share some of the top tips from expert sources on how to avoid it.  Carers especially need to take care of themselves this Christmas, so this begins with tips for families caring for a loved one with dementia.

  • First, adjust your expectations, and keep it simple. Stick to quiet, slow-paced gatherings. Music, conversation and meal preparation all add to the noise and stimulation of an event. Yet for someone with dementia, a calm and quiet environment usually is best. Keep daily routines in place as much as possible and, as needed, provide your loved one a place to rest during family get-togethers.
  • Tone down your decorations.Blinking lights and large decorative displays can cause disorientation. Avoid lighted candles, trailing wires and other safety hazards, as well as decorations that could be mistaken for edible treats — such as artificial fruits.
  • In our care homes residents are often involved in baking. They love it!  If you bake, consider involving the person by having them measuring flour, stirring batter or rolling dough.  If possible, open holiday cards or wrap gifts together. Remember to concentrate on the process, rather than the result.
  • If your loved one is in a care home – minimize visitor traffic. Arrange for a few family members to drop in on different days. Even if your loved one isn’t sure who’s who, two or three familiar faces are likely to be enough.  And schedule visits for the person’s best time of day.

The signs of stress

Everyone experiences the signs of stress in individual ways, but the most common are –  tense neck and shoulders; tense jaw, back pain, racing heartbeat or palpitations, dizziness, difficulty swallowing, stomach ache, fatigue, indigestion, restlessness, inability to concentrate, digestive problems, loss of appetite or over-eating, trouble sleeping, irritation and loss of motivation.  Stress, if prolonged, can lead to depression.

Here are some suggestions for banishing stress.

The first is to laugh.  Laughter has been found to lower levels of stress hormones and reduce inflammation in the arteries.

Sharing a light moment
Sharing a light moment

Then there is exercise.  Exercising melts away stress by releasing mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins.  It also protects against heart disease by lowering blood pressure.

Next are ‘cut out points’, or Hot Chocolate Moments.   There used to be a TV commercial where a mother left the baby with the baby-sitter just long enough for her to make a hot chocolate and relax by herself in another room to drink it.  You may not like hot chocolate, but you can listen to music, take a warm bath, or spend time on a favourite hobby.  In other words, take a little time out doing something that pleases you.  It’s been found that rhythmic hobbies like knitting or crocheting are particularly relaxing.

Breathe properly.  Stress can lead to shallow breathing.   Concentrate on breathing from your diaphragm, deeply.  Notice how a baby breathes naturally this way.  Breathing ‘abdominally’ relieves tension.

Spend time with friends, especially those in your fellowship.  God designed us to develop in relationship with one another.

Worship. Welsh pastor and speaker Selwyn Hughes wrote,’

How do we get the framework, the sense of structure we need to be able to move effectively from one day to another, in a world where everything that seemed to be nailed down is coming apart?

It is to be found in our worship of God.   We enter into the presence of the Lord and lo, His unity becomes our unity.’ 

Worship helps us to hold ourselves together.

Worship can be a part of a ‘Relaxation Response’ exercise, developed by Harvard Medical School’s Dr Herbert Benson.  In a study alongside c ‘changing lifestyle’ programme, it was shown to reduce heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and muscle tension more than in the ‘lifestyle’ group.   Here’s how to do it:

  • Select a word (such as “peace”), a short phrase, or a prayer to focus on – perhaps simply ‘Thank you Lord Jesus. Thank you.’
  • Sit quietly in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
  • Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, and so on, up to your neck and face.
  • Breathe slowly through your nose, silently saying your focus word, phrase, or prayer to yourself as you exhale. (Breathe abdominally, using your diaphragm.)  You can envisage breathing out your stress, and breathing in the Holy Spirit.
  • When other thoughts come to mind, don’t worry. Simply return your attention to your focus word, phrase, or prayer.
  • Do this for 10–20 minutes.
  • Sit quietly for a minute or so, and then open your eyes.
  • Practice the relaxation response once or twice a day.

Here’s a tip from cognitive behavioural therapy.  When you are feeling stressed, ask yourself – if, given the circumstances,  I could make one change that would make a difference, what would that be?

Our emotions can be so stirred up that identifying one change can clarify our thinking.  It may not be possible to introduce that change, but having identified it we can do  something Jesus told us to do – to bring it to Him in prayer.  ‘Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you,’ reads 1 Peter 5:7 (KJV).

Here’s to a truly blessed, stress free Christmas!  

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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