Beating the Holiday Blues

We have entered the “most wonderful time of the year.”  Decorations and lights are on display, Christmas carols are playing, and there is an overall sense of holiday cheer.  For many of us, though, the season is overwhelming and the expectations of the holiday season lead to increased anxiety and depression. The challenges of the holiday are often felt more acutely by family caregivers and older adults who are experiencing limited mobility, limited finances and limited energy.

The holidays are a time of reflection that magnifies the loss of loved ones and may trigger a longing for the past. Physical and emotional changes as well as financial constraints impact the ability to celebrate the holidays as you would like.  Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a mood disorder caused by the reduction of natural sunlight during the winter, can compound feelings of depression. Despite these real challenges there are strategies to beat the holiday blues and get into the holiday spirit.

  • Acknowledge how you feel and talk about it. It is ok to feel sad.
  • Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.
  • Get out of the house to avoid isolation and to get some sunlight.
  • Stick to a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
  • Volunteer. Helping others is a wonderful antidote to loneliness and sadness.
  • Pace yourself and build in down time.
  • Try not to set yourself up for sadness by comparing this year’s holidays to past celebrations.
  • Try something new and create new traditions that accommodate changes in family structure, health, mobility or    finances.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol is actually a depressant.

If you are hosting an older relative for the holidays remember these tips:

  • Arrange transportation if necessary.           
  • If it’s a White Christmas, make sure walkways are clear of snow and ice.
  • Let everyone help with set up and clean up. It will make it easier for you and will make your guests feel like they are contributing.
  • Encourage older guests to share their feelings and stories and really listen to them.

Having a mood disorder, experiencing depression during the rest of the year, and a lack of social support are risk factors for depression at holiday time. If you or someone you know is suffering from symptoms of depression – loss of sleep, changes in weight and appetite, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fatigue, thoughts of suicide – it is time to consult a medical or mental-health professional.

For those suffering from seasonal sadness, remember that the season will pass.  Try some of the above suggestions and try to live in the moment, appreciating what you do have.  An attitude of gratitude reflects the message of the holidays and can go a long way in beating blues.