Many people feel stress during the holidays, with all of the shopping, social engagements, decorating and cleaning up afterward. Beyond the stress, though, some see the holidays as a period of loneliness and self-examination. They reflect on disappointments of the past year and feel anxiety about an uncertain future.
Seniors who have lost a spouse or longtime friends can experience sadness from this and from separation from family and friends or poor health. Feelings of guilt for this unhappiness about the holidays only intensify this sadness. With planning, however, seniors can cope with the holiday blues, known technically as adjustment disorder with depressed mood.
Therapists recommend that you take action to beat the holiday blues. Create a plan with the following objectives. This approach has proved effective for seniors and people of all ages.
Seek out other people and avoid loneliness or gloom caused by missing your departed family members or friends. Invite friends over to visit and to participate in holiday activities. Volunteer to make a difference in others’ lives by assisting at a charity. You could wrap toys for children who otherwise might miss out on Christmas; serve meals at a shelter; or visit residents of a nursing home.
Engage in some form of regular exercise. By staying physically active you will keep pumping endorphins, chemicals that improve your mood.
Avoid alcohol and recreational drug use. Although it might numb the sadness temporarily, alcohol diminishes serotonin in the brain, and you need this chemical to maintain a normal mood. You also will face more intense depression and regret once the alcohol or drug wears off.
If you would rather not spend time with certain people, practice saying, “No, thank you.” Assert yourself and avoid people who have made you feel negative or uncomfortable in the past.
Create a budget for gifts and other holiday expenses and stick to it. Especially for seniors on a fixed income, the increased expenses and rampant consumerism of the holidays can add financial worries to the other sources of stress. Instead, find activities that are free or at least low cost, such as taking a drive to see Christmas lights and other community activities that come with the holiday season.
Create realistic expectations and pace yourself during the holidays. Spread your celebrating over the days and weeks, rather than attempting to experience all of the joy on Christmas day or at the New Year.
Save time for yourself, to rest and restore your energy. Schedule time for leisure interests, such as reading a book or listening to music that will inspire or revive you. Getting enough sleep also helps ward off depression.
Give thanks for any and all of the positive aspects of your life. Make a list or write a letter of gratitude to yourself or someone else.
Make plans to enjoy yourself after the holidays and look forward to that time.
If you notice a senior friend or relative struggling with the holiday blues, let him or her know that Senior Bridges at Northern Nevada Medical Center treats the mental and the physical health of adults 50 and older throughout the year.
Senior Bridges is designed for short-term care to stabilize and resolve immediate psychological problems. The intensive outpatient program provides more thorough treatment than traditional outpatient care. The experienced treatment team includes a psychiatrist, licensed clinical social workers, and a marriage family therapist.
Senior Bridges is in a comfortable relaxed setting, people are working on similar issues. In our outpatient program you can return home at the end of your session. Senior Bridges will help foster the independence, confidence, working through grief, along with anxiety, depression, socialization and relaxation skills to get you through this difficult time you or someone you know may be feeling.
A patient may refer him- or herself or be referred by a physician or family member by calling Senior Bridges at 775-356-1279.
Ellen McBride, MD, is the Medical Director for Senior Bridges Intensive Outpatient Program. Dr. McBride graduated from UNR School of Medicine and completed her residency at UNR as well.