No matter what winter holidays we observe, for some of us, the holiday season can be a difficult time. It’s often more distressing for older adults for a number of reasons. Why is that and what are some of the ways we can fight off or help an older loved one fight off holiday depression?
Why do older adults experience holiday depression?
Holiday blues can be common and will often go away after a little time has passed. When discussing depression, it’s defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as:
“If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment”
Older adults can experience holiday depression due to numerous things:
- Isolation from family members
- Missing loved ones who have passed
- Stress of family preparations
- Additional financial pressures
- Loss of mobility or ability to celebrate in ways they used to
- Chronic illness that prevents enjoyment they previously had during the season
- Seasonal Affected Disorder
- Nostalgia for how “things used to be”
Is it just during the holidays?
It’s actually not just during the holidays that can be a challenge for older adults, but the time after as well. Post-holiday depression can happen to anyone who spends time with family or friends during the holidays and then has a lack of social interaction after the holidays.
This is especially pronounced in seniors who don’t have regular social time with friends or family or have a busy “regular” life with lots of external activities. The post holiday time can be quiet and lonely, especially after spending precious time with loved ones during the holidays. It’s almost as though the time spent with family during the holidays exacerbates the quiet time that comes after the holidays are over.
Ways to combat holiday depression in seniors
Continue to exercise. We all tend to stop exercising and eat less healthy foods in the winter, much less when we’re celebrating. Regular exercise not only helps the body (no matter the age), but helps the mind, the sleep cycle and overall mental health.
Be conscious of alcohol intake. Limiting alcohol is critical in a time when more alcohol than normal may be consumed. It’s a known depressant and affects over all mental and physical health adversely.
Talk about previous seasonal memories. Quietly reminiscing to yourself about times gone by may not be the best for our mental health. However, sharing stories with people we care about and making that human connection over traditions or heritage is healthy and beneficial.
Go for a drive to see the Christmas lights. Just getting out of the house and home can be lovely. This activity is enjoyable for those who may have mobility issues and don’t get out often.
Remember and honor those who have passed. Sharing stories, lighting a candle, passing on our loved one’s favorite traditions is crucial to family heritage. Even for those without families, caregivers can participate in traditions, discussion and bonding.
Keep busy. Isolation and lack of interaction are key factors in depression all throughout the year. Even speaking on the telephone or over video chat is a social interaction. Participating in planned holiday activities in senior’s homes or via senior’s centers creates necessary social interactions. The important thing to remember is not to stay home alone too much during this time.
If you or a loved one is having a difficult time this holiday season (or any other time) please speak with the family doctor or call a crisis line:
- SAMHSA’s helpline offers 24/7 support in English and Spanish for treatment referral and support. Phone Number: 1-(800)-662-HELP (4357)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: This 24-hour suicide prevention helpline specializes in handling all situations related to suicide and emotional distress. Phone Number: 1-(800)-273‑TALK (8255)
- Veterans Crisis Line: Many vets struggle with depression and other debilitating mental health issues. If this is you or a loved one, call, text, or chat online 24/7 for support. Phone Number: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) OR text a message to 838-255.
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Do you have questions about how you can better support your loved one while they age in place in South Florida or regarding homecare in general? Please contact CareGivers of America here: Contact or call us toll free: 800-342-4197
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