Five Simple Steps for Seniors to Combat Holiday Depression

“Happy holidays!” The sentiment seems to stream effortlessly from the mouths of friends, store cashiers, and neighbors this time of year. For many, it certainly is just that – a happy time of year. For some, however, the holiday season can bring mixed emotions. This can be particularly true for seniors, where, depending on their emotional and physical condition, the holidays can be hectic, bewildering, and even depressing. For many people, decade-old traditions can bring sadness for a variety of reasons, and especially if special loved ones are no longer by their side.

Happy Three Pillars resident
The holidays are a happy time for many, but not all.

If you or a loved one experience the holiday blues, here are 5 tips to let the joyful side of the holidays shine and help make the season brighter.

1. Focus on the present moment.
If focusing on the past finds you dwelling on resentments or sadness, make a conscious effort to focus on the happiness in this moment. If you’re surrounded by silence and notice the gorgeously lit Christmas wreath on your mantle, absorb its beauty and appreciate it. Many swear by the “count 10 breaths” trick as a deliberate, calming reset method to be in the moment.

2. Be realistic and kind to yourself.
Nobody’s perfect, so don’t set unrealistic expectations about yourself or your holiday season. You don’t have to be the same person you were in years past, you don’t have to say yes to every engagement, and you can ask for help. Do something special to pamper yourself, whether that’s going for a rejuvenating walk in solitude or snuggling up for a Hallmark movie with a friend. Try not to overthink what others perceive of you, because this is your holiday to enjoy! As Linda Walter, LCSW says in an article on Psychology Today:

“Throw guilt out the window!”

3. Adopt an attitude of gratitude.
Science proves that gratitude is good for you.Looking for and savoring the positive aspects of any moment, event, or gathering makes our brain happy. Make yourself be consciously grateful by asking yourself, “What’s one positive thing happening in this moment? What can I say a prayer of thanks for right now?” Among the scientifically proven benefits of a grateful outlook are enhanced interpersonal relationships, fewer aches and pains, increased empathy, and better sleep.

4. Plan events or outings to celebrate the holidays.
Filling the holiday with a full agenda of fun can ward off the blues. Make plans and invite someone to join in decorating, going caroling, seeing Christmas lights, or having a cup of coffee together. Don’t understate the quiet moments, either. In an effort not to overwhelm with too much hustle and bustle, those quiet coffee dates can be extremely valuable as a time to talk, listen, and process emotions. Talking about old memories or even what makes them feel sad can be therapeutic. If being alone brings sadness, do something (or help a loved one do something) about it. In the absence of a strong social network, arrange to volunteer somewhere like a soup kitchen or a group home.

5. Watch for signs of holiday depression.
The American Medical Resource Institute reports that approximately six million people over age 65 are depressed, with the holiday season sometimes exacerbating feelings of sadness. Feeling blue happens, but depression is serious. Signs of depression can include persistent sadness, frequent tearfulness, weight changes, changes in sleep patterns, and more. View this full list of signs and symptoms from the National Institute of Mental Health. You can also keep an eye open for a loved one who may be forgetting medications or having one too many libations, which can sneak up in the mix of holiday hustle and bustle and alter mental status. Additionally, keep in mind that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be provoked by diminished exposure to sunlight, so soak in the natural winter sunlight whenever you can.