Diana Kelly Levey

Helping Seniors with Holiday Blues and Depression

senior sad holiday blues man holding hands

December 14, 2017 | Categories:

When every song, storefront, and online ad is reminding you “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” you may feel like you’re the only Scrooge who isn’t feeling particularly festive during the holiday season. You’re not alone. The “holiday blues” may be more common than others may lead you to believe, but oftentimes, you can try to work through them.

“Heightened social interactions, or lack thereof, are often the source of problems,” throughout this season, according to an article on The Dana Foundation, a brain research foundation. Oversocializing and feelings of stress that come from that, or, feeling like you don’t have a social circle can both lead to depression.

The holidays can be especially difficult if you’ve lost a loved one in recent years or feel lonely in general during the holidays.

“As you get older, you have to make an adjustment to losses,” says Merlin Muhrer, licensed marital and family therapist at Albert Einstein’s Outpatient Psychiatry Center in Philadelphia. “I think the holiday time is a trigger for losses and your life may feel like it’s becoming more narrowly focused.”

Due to your perception of how happy everyone is “supposed to be,” it could bring about a trigger of memories reminding you of losses throughout the year—whether that’s your job, home, a spouse, relatives or friends, says Muhrer. “Be aware that it is appropriate to feel that loss. It’s normal. When you try to fight the natural processing of loss and don’t accept it or go through it, then it becomes more problematic. It’s wishing that [those feelings] weren’t there or shouldn’t be there …that’s when you get into trouble,” says Muhrer.

Combatting Loneliness

While the temptation might be to hunker down at home until after the New Year, it’s important to go out and do activities, suggests Muhrer. Those could be holiday services or taking a stroll to go look at decorations in store windows.

Don’t wait for others to make plans for you or for you to be invited to do something in order to get out these last few weeks of the year. Here are some ways to introduce a few joyful moments back into the holidays:

  • Host a holiday meal or small gathering at your house.
  • If you’re doing activities by yourself, consider going shopping for someone in your family, friends, or a caregiver. You could also buy and donate a toy to a child in need.
  • Go see a holiday movie in the theater by yourself or ask a friend to join.
  • Bake favorite holiday treats you enjoyed as a child.
  • Write cards to friends.
  • Send a care package to a soldier who’s stationed overseas.
  • Call, Skype, or Facetime with family members that are far away a few times during the month.
  • Volunteer! You could help gather donations with the Salvation Army or distribute gifts, signing up to feed the homeless on a holiday, or dressing up like a holiday character and visiting a children’s hospital. You’ll meet likeminded volunteers who are spending their time the same way you are!

Can online therapy help depressed seniors?

“When you’re taking control and you are giving something back or giving something to somebody, that can make you feel connected to your community,” says Muhrer. “You can acknowledge, ‘What is the primary important thing here? ‘I’m feeling lonely, and there might be a good reason for that. But, what is the spirit of the holidays, and how can I actively contribute to that?”

Science says that “giving” is associated with a numerous health benefits, including lower blood pressure, lower stress levels, greater self-esteem, and lower depression. So what are you waiting for? Find someone who could use your help today!

Signs Your Holiday Blues are Serious

If you find that you’re experiencing physical symptoms, like sleeping too much or not sleeping enough, loss of appetite, feeling a loss of interest in socializing and doing things that normally bring you joy, there may be cause for concern, Muhrer says. Call your primary care provider for a visit to determine the source of the issue and whether you should find a therapist to speak to. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, that requires immediate attention and can’t be ignored. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. It’s free, confidential, and you can find someone to talk to.

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This article was originally written for Independence Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Medicare newsletter.

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