The holiday season is often associated with joy, connection, and celebration. But for many individuals, December can bring sadness and isolation—especially for older adults.
Sometimes memories of lost loved ones, family far away, or not feeling well enough to take part in festivities can make the holidays especially difficult. Remember, for some the holiday blues can lead to a more serious condition, depression, or to a decline in cognitive ability.
Don’t let the blues dampen your enjoyment during a time of the year when many celebrate and give thanks! If you or a loved one is feeling down this winter there are practical steps you can take to keep spirits up:
- Notice any changes in mood
If you’re beginning to feel blue, the first step is to notice any changes: Are you stressed? Is your energy lower than usual? Are you feeling a little sad or lonely? Acknowledge your feelings and let them out. Remind yourself that it is OK and perfectly normal to feel a bit down during the holiday season. Becoming aware of your feelings is the first step to finding relief. Writing in a journal or sending a letter can also help.
- Reach out to family, friends or neighbors
Oftentimes, simply talking to someone—such as a friend or family member—can be a powerful remedy. Dr. Julia Chu, Clinical Psychologist for Seniors At Home, says, “Sharing feelings of sadness or difficulties with someone who truly hears and empathizes without judgment can be very healing.”Call loved ones who are far away to chat and say hello, find out what activities are being held in your local community or religious group, or invite a neighbor and their family over for tea and cookies. Connecting with others is one of the most effective ways to avoid the blues during the holiday season and to lift your mood with a conversation or a laugh.
- Spend time with animals
Connecting with other people isn’t the only way to enjoy social interaction. Spending time with dogs, cats and other animals can provide the emotional lift that many older adults may need at this time of year.Visiting with dogs has been found to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression, and to create an overall sense of well-being. Miriam Markowitz, Director of the Canine Therapy Program at Seniors At Home, says she has found spending time with animals to be very valuable to older adult clients. She says, “Many of our clients used to have their own pet dogs, so having a dog in the house can bring back fond and treasured memories.” Studies on Pet Therapy have also shown the added bonus of boosting interaction and reducing feelings of depression in people with dementia-related conditions.
- Stay active
Despite the tendency to feel tired and uninspired when we’re feeling blue, one of the most effective ways to combat sadness is to take on some form of exercise or physical activity. Exercise has been proven to improve symptoms of depression in older adults and can also boost memory and cognitive performance. Join a group class, go for a stroll around the neighborhood, or try something you can do at home such as chair yoga. Any type of physical activity that you enjoy will be a fantastic way to get your endorphins flowing and to improve your mood.
- Engage in your favorite hobbies
Whether it’s reading, painting, listening to music, writing, baking, or something else that inspires you, connecting with hobbies can help take your mind off of difficult thoughts or feelings. Be sure to continue any regular activities you normally participate in, even if motivation is low.Holding on to your interests and pastimes helps maintain a sense of identity and fulfillment as we age, and is also important for people experiencing memory loss.
- Give back
Volunteering in your local community is an excellent way to connect with others and feel good about making a valuable contribution. There are many causes and organizations seeking volunteers over the holiday period and beyond.JFCS has numerous opportunities to volunteer that may suit your talents and availability. Find out more about volunteering with JFCS. You can also find volunteering opportunities in your area on volunteer websites, such as VolunteerMatch or The Volunteer Center.
- Find help
Don’t forget that if you find yourself persistently sad, lethargic, or anxious, or if you are experiencing other symptoms of depression, seek professional help immediately.Dr. Chu says that although friends and families are important support systems, some older adults have difficulty telling their loved ones their true feelings for fear of burdening them. She says, “A trained professional can get past these concerns and help identify and manage negative feelings before they become more debilitating.”
Seniors At Home provides a full range of service designed to help older adults live more independently and to give peace of mind to their families.