Sometimes as we age, the holidays no longer seem very jolly, and we don’t feel like celebrating much anymore. What used to be a joyous occasion can change and take on new meanings as life throws us curve balls.
We think we’re supposed to be exceptionally happy this time of year, but that expectation alone can cause people of all ages to become sad or depressed. Family caregivers and older adults are especially susceptible to the holiday blues.
Many caregivers and seniors struggle to get through the holiday season. “As a caregiver, you can be prone to adopting your loved one’s melancholy feelings or anxiety and vice versa,” says Leslie Dunham, LCSW, a social worker at Bon Secours Hospital in Ellicott City, Md.
While the holidays may not be the same as they were in the past, there can still be plenty of reasons to celebrate. One of the most important things to remember is that it’s okay to enjoy them as they are now. Old memories hold a special place in your heart, but there is always enough room to add new ones.
Acknowledging what exactly is triggering these gloomy feelings in yourself or a loved one can help you find ways of coping.
Common Cause of Depression During the Holidays
Stress Over Too Much to Do
Another thing that can cause stress is pressure from family and friends to continue celebrations the same way they have been done in the past. Traditions are special, but nothing ruins a holiday faster than having too much on your plate.
By default, caregivers are already busier than the average person. Adding decorations, holiday meals and shopping to the mix is enough to undermine anyone’s holiday spirit. To keep from feeling overwhelmed and out of control, Dunham offers the following suggestions:
Focus on what you and your loved one need and want instead of what others expect of you.
Accept help when others offer it and ask for help when you need it. It makes other people feel good to help those they care about.
Prioritize and downsize holiday tasks. Decide which decorations are most important to you and compromise. For example, put up the tree lights and the mantle decorations, but skip the outdoor lights this year. The same idea applies to dinner, gifts, etc. Don’t make a ham, a turkey, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. Stick to two or three favorite dishes instead of six or seven. You could also start a new tradition of a potluck meal. If everyone brings a dish to share, it significantly lightens your load.
Make lists. It often helps you keep track of what exactly needs to be done, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment when you cross off completed tasks.
How to Avoid Holiday Depression
There is no reason to wait until depression happens to act on it, because there are approaches that can help prevent and minimize the symptoms. Generally, what can help is not being too hard on yourself for the difficulty you or your loved one may be experiencing. Try to:
Keep a regular schedule and build in breaks. Adequate physical and mental rest is crucial, especially during the hectic holiday season. Consider hiring respite care or asking a family member or friend to pitch in with your loved one’s care so you can disconnect and recharge.
Do not feel guilty for picking and choosing which holiday plans you and your loved one can commit to.
Make sure you and your loved one get regular exercise. Unfortunately, it’s typical for people to stop doing the healthy things they usually do because of holiday activities and the inclement weather. Make exercise and other forms of self-care a top priority, even if it’s only twenty minutes each day.
Avoid overeating at every meal. Save indulging for special meals, like the big family dinner or the potluck at work. Balancing indulgence with light, healthy meals will help you and your loved one feel less lethargic and prevent digestive issues.
If you drink alcohol, do so responsibly.
Remember that the real meaning of the holidays is to be thankful for what you have, what you have now, and what the future may bring. Be honest and recognize that this time of year may not feel the same as it once did. Talk with people you trust about how you are feeling and encourage your loved one to do the same. Support groups are an excellent resource for family caregivers and seniors alike. Consider making a doctor’s appointment if you or your loved one are struggling with the holiday blues this year. He or she can suggest medications and nonpharmaceutical options to help you feel better.