The holidays can be a tough time of year for seniors. Whether they are separated from family by distance or overwhelmed by the increase in daily visitors, older people can find the holidays emotionally difficult. Reminiscing about good times gone by or traditions that have faded away can lead to depression and feelings of isolation.
Often referred to as the “holiday blues,” these feelings of sadness or anxiety surrounding the holiday season are very different than winter-pattern Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is related to changes in daylight hours, not the approach of the holidays and the predictable changes in schedules like increased family visits. Sadness during the holidays is common for seniors and, with time and attention, can be overcome.
What are the Holiday Blues?
The holiday blues are often temporary and mild, however, if left unchecked these short-term feelings of sadness can develop into depression. If you notice a friend or loved one is not feeling very jolly, make a simple phone call, chat over coffee, or invite them for a walk. Don’t underestimate the power of your concern for someone who has feelings of sadness and loss over the holidays.
Signs of Holiday Blues
Too little or too much sleep
Changes in appetite
Lack of interest in socializing with others
There is nothing wrong with feeling sad. It is important to be kind to someone experiencing these very real feelings of loss. The holiday blues are real – you can be better prepared to act when you know why it happens and what you can do to help.
3 Reasons for Holiday Blues
Loss of loved ones/passing of time
Change in traditions
Being separated from family
1. The holidays become a marker of time.
Seniors feel loss more acutely during the holidays. Reminiscing about Christmases past always involves parents, siblings, spouses, and friends who are gone, a reminder that time is fleeting. Holidays represent all that has changed, which, for a senior, can also be the meaning of the season.
For those who have lost loved ones recently, it is especially hard to handle the holidays. This season brings up so many memories and traditions that you associate with the person (or persons) lost that their absence is even more acute. Grief is in direct conflict with the joy and celebration of Christmas time which can cause any person to feel isolated.
Honor the Feelings
Light a memorial candle
Make a photo album of previous holidays
Set aside time to share fun memories
Visit loved one’s resting place
Not everyone grieves the same way. Embracing the sadness and speaking the feelings out loud encourages togetherness rather than isolation. Talking about someone who has died does not make the senior more sad, it honors the memory of the person who is gone and reinforces their impact while they were alive.
2. Change is hard, but new traditions can keep you connected.
Once the host and driver of tradition, our senior loved one can feel lost in a holiday filled with new people and different priorities. Where they once hosted family dinner parties and organized Christmas Eve festivities for the grandchildren, they now feel exhausted at the thought of traveling across town to merely attend a family gathering. The holidays will look different, but they can still be meaningful.
Trying to replicate family traditions can be hard because, ultimately, it won’t be the same. Talk about what is important to keep and what can be changed to accommodate the things that have changed. Perhaps hosting in their home is no longer feasible, but can they serve as honorary host at the new location? Can they help organize the itinerary for Christmas Eve festivities?
Overcoming holiday sadness is all about focusing on what we can do. Dwelling on limitations is a downer, so how can we modify the tradition and accomplish the same goal? Slow down and savor the moments – traditions are all about connecting with the ones you love.
Honor the Feelings
Let opting out be a choice
Talk about what you want to continue
Take care of yourself
Time is a thief, and the holidays illuminate this fact in brightly colored twinkling lights. While seniors struggle with the holiday blues, family members are tempted to tie themselves in knots to make everything “ok.” Know that the changes are going to be tough for everyone. Be ready to talk it out and give space – everyone’s journey is different.
3. Get creative for elderly parents who live far away.
Long gone are the days when families lived together in the same house or settled in the same town for a lifetime. Modern families are spread across the country – and the globe! – which makes getting together for the holidays more difficult. But not impossible. You can be “home” for Christmas with a little out-of-the-box thinking.
Start a new tradition and host a virtual holiday party with your family members. You can set up a free video conference ahead of time and send out the participation link. Everyone can join during the assigned time and let the merriment begin!
Get Together for Free
What could be better than a virtual meet-up with family at Christmas? Seeing them throughout the year! These platforms are available anytime to connect you with family and friends far away.
Whether you use the time to “go around the room” and reminisce about holidays past, sing a carol or two, or talk about the things you’re most thankful for, this togetherness is invaluable for anyone who feels isolated at Christmas (or any time of year).
Get By with a Little Help
For seniors living far away from family, extra assistance from a private caregiver can go far during the holidays. From companionship to helping set up virtual conference calls with family, a private duty caregiver is the perfect solution for helping to avoid the holiday blues. When family can’t be close, an extra set of eyes is invaluable when looking out for signs and symptoms of holiday depression.
As the holiday season approaches, be prepared to have positive family experiences by reaching out to the Resources We Love for support. Private Duty Home Care is an invaluable service for seniors and their families. Learn more about the support they offer in the Resources Section of our Blog.