By Becky Wiese
Maybe it’s those sentimental (read: sappy) holiday commercials. Or it could be the perfectly decorated-to-the-hilt festive homes portrayed in magazines, complete with the amazing spread of food that looks delicious, healthy, and, most incredibly, all done and ready to serve at the same time. These and other stress-free portrayals can easily set us up with expectations that, sadly, are rarely fulfilled in real life celebrations.
Whatever the cause, the truth is holidays, birthdays, and special events often increase our level of stress because we want everything to be perfect. We spend hours shopping for the perfect gift, creating the perfect festive atmosphere, making the perfect dinner, having the picture perfect gathering around the table — all the while adding to the list of things we have to do, increasing our own and everyone else’s stress level, and usually, unfortunately, decreasing the level of joy and satisfaction throughout the process.
Adding to the time crunch is the realization that not everyone moves at the same pace, making us feel that we have to rush even more to accomplish all the things on our to-do lists.
The older adult can be especially susceptible to feeling overwhelmed and frustrated because their pace — thinking, moving, living — may be slower. When the things you want to do and feel you need to do become difficult to accomplish in the timeframe you have to do them in, the enjoyment level plummets. No wonder these “holidays” can be more depressing than delightful. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Making Life Less Stressful
Mary Jo Zeller, director of MySolutions, offers some suggestions for decreasing stress levels any time of year — special occasions, holidays, and everyday life — and increasing both the quality and quantity of time families can spend together.
MySolutions is a Smart Aging option of Lutheran Life Communities, a faith-based, not-for-profit organization that has been serving seniors for more than 120 years. The organization operates several retirement communities in Illinois, one of which is Luther Oaks in Bloomington.
The overarching goal of MySolutions is to make life easier for a person to stay in their own home and do the things they like to do as well as the things they need to do. In addition, the services that are offered also help family members as well by alleviating some of the simple but necessary tasks, especially during busy times.
Zeller provides an example of one client who utilized the MySolution companion service for her elderly mother during her daughter’s wedding. The woman wrote, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! [The companion] was so wonderful! She was so kind and thoughtful with my mom. Very professional, but personable. My mom was so comfortable the entire time and was able to go to the wedding ceremony and the entire reception!”
The companion not only accompanied this woman’s mother, but she helped her prepare for the day: “My mom looked gorgeous — every detail I had hoped for had been accomplished! Her dress, jewelry, purse, shoes — even lipstick placed in her little purse. She was not rushed or uncomfortable for one second. [The companion] planned ahead of every move my mom made. Just awesome!!”
“I just can’t say thank you enough for helping me to plan for the perfect situation for my mom on that big day for our family. I’m not sure how I would have enjoyed myself as much without that extra support. The excellent support and compassion, thoughtfulness and forethought while providing my mom with a safe, enjoyable day was priceless!”
These kinds of services are exactly what MySolutions specializes in — making everyone’s experience better, whether it’s for on-going assistance with the tasks of life, helping with a special event, or enjoying busy times like the holidays.
The Gift of Time
“The question always comes up around the holidays, birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day — what should we get Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa?” says Zeller. “The thing is, they don’t really need (or probably want) another thing to set on a shelf that needs to be dusted or another sweater, or more of anything they already have.” What most people desire is more time — time to do the things they enjoy and time to spend simply being with one another. It’s very much about relationships.
“Even though holidays are often considered to be ‘vacation’ time, they frequently have an incredibly long to-do list associated with them. These higher expectations increase stress levels because there just isn’t enough time to get everything done,” Zeller goes on to explain. She cites three specific examples of how the gift of time can be a blessing:
• A Gift of Service: MySolutions services can be given as a gift certificate in increments of hourly rates for the particular service offered. These gifts enable the recipient to choose anything from getting help with grocery shopping for an hour each week, going to the hairdresser, or running errands. “Plus,” suggests Zeller, “if this gift is given in advance of a holiday, services could include things like help with cooking or baking, addressing Christmas cards, or gift wrapping — things an older person may like to do, but the actual task of doing them has become difficult, so they’ve stopped doing it.”
• A Gift of Relationship: Time with loved ones becomes especially precious as we grow older. Utilizing the various services offered by MySolutions enables family to spend quality and quantity time together by off-loading various tasks that might be on the to-do list, but often just get checked off as quickly as possible. “Take shopping, for example,” says Zeller. “A family member might be able to squeeze in some time to take a relative gift shopping, but the task is often constrained by other tasks that need to be done, so it becomes rushed and less enjoyable. MySolutions offers personal shopping services so that instead of spending three hours getting worn out at the mall, family can spend those three hours doing something that truly builds relationship — going to lunch or looking at heirloom photo albums or just having a conversation that’s not limited to the ten minutes between tasks.”
• A Gift of Making Life Easier: Traditions abound during holidays and special events — time-tested and beloved activities that make them special. But it’s not a bad idea to re-examine traditions from time to time in order to determine if they are worth keeping or if the effort outweighs the enjoyment. For example, if Mom has always made a huge meal for a family gathering and she’s worked to the point of exhaustion preparing it, maybe it’s time to divvy up the workload and have everyone bring something, leaving her with a smaller part. The end result is the same: a special family meal. But it’s become much less stressful because the workload has been shared among several family members. It’s definitely okay to change traditions, especially when they make it easier to enjoy each other’s company. MySolutions services can alleviate the load even more by helping to do the routine tasks, such as light housekeeping, grocery shopping, or decorating. “Sometimes it’s just about having that extra pair of hands available to help with preparations — it’s especially helpful prior to holidays and events if there are no close family members living nearby,” states Zeller.
Commonly Needed Services Under One Umbrella
MySolutions works to provide a variety of services that help people, especially the older adult, live where they choose and maintain the highest level of independence possible. A recent article on the Fannie Mae website suggests that retirees, and especially Baby Boomers, place a high value on staying in their own home — they may want to downsize, but they prefer to live independently in a single family residence. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “aging in place.”
Although people may want to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, it is still true that as we grow older, some tasks become more difficult, less enjoyable, or troublesome, even impossible, for us to accomplish. MySolutions offers help with these types of issues, providing home maintenance and modification services, home safety monitoring, or if a move is involved to a different city or a smaller home, move management and relocation services.
Many of these services are provided by MySolutions employees or through a large network of preferred vendors, contractors, and handyman companies. “People trust us because we are a not-for-profit, faith-based organization and because we establish strong relationships with vendors, service providers, contractors, and anyone else in our network. They know and we know it’s important to do a good job. Our goal is to become a trusted resource for families.”
For more information, call MySolutions at 309-557-8212 or toll-free at 877-464-4909 or visit them online at www.MySolutions.org.