Keeping the “Happy” in “Happy Holidays”

It’s the holidays and with the holidays come a lot of extra things to do. There’s the shopping, the wrapping, the baking and the entertaining.  All of these activities can bring joy but also stress. For people with cognitive challenges, these additional activities can cause overload and take all of the joy out of the holiday season. I have put together a list of ideas and strategies that have been helpful to people in the past in managing their cognitive challenges while navigating the holidays. I hope you find them helpful.

     1. Don’t over do it so that by the time you are ready to celebrate, you are too tired to participate. A perfectly cooked meal won’t mean anything if you are too tired to enjoy it.
     2. Delegate tasks and ask for help. Don’t feel like you are solely responsible for everything related to the holiday preparation.  Family and friends will be happy to help but may need the cue from you.
     3. Create an overall plan with timeframes. Include goal dates for completing activities such as shopping, wrapping, cooking, etc. Break larger tasks into smaller pieces and schedule one piece at a time.  Make a written calendar with this information and keep it accessible. If you need to make changes, it is easier to see how the changes will impact other deadlines you have identified and move things around.
     4. Prioritize the activities you need to complete using the WIN Strategy-WHAT’S IMPORTANT NOW. By prioritizing tasks, you ensure that you will be able to complete those things that are the most important to you.
     5. Create daily plans based on your overall plan (strategy 3). Once you have the PLAN for the DAY, review it and ask yourself where you may experience a challenge and think about how you will manage that challenge. What strategies are you prepared to implement? Being prepared for a challenge can help reduce the stress and frustration that you may experience. If you notice an increase in fatigue, irritability or physical/cognitive symptoms, reduce the number of tasks you schedule per day.
     6. Be flexible. This 2020 holiday season will likely be different for many reasons. If this is the first holiday since your injury, give yourself permission to make some changes. These changes may include delegating, altering your menu and shopping differently.
     7. Set reminders and create checklists. These will keep you organized and reduce the demand on your memory.
     8. EAT, SLEEP and HYDRATE. These three activities are important for brain function and often get overlooked as schedules get busier.
     9. Practice stress management techniques. Some examples include meditation, strength training, yoga, reading, etc. Choose what works for you; there isn’t one answer for everyone.
     10. Recognize your triggers and limit your exposure to them. If noise is an issue, plan on smaller gatherings. If endurance is an issue, plan to meet earlier in the day so you aren’t too fatigued to enjoy the event.
Most importantly, keep your focus on enjoying the holiday season with friends and family. Practice gratitude. This will promote the healing process.

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