The holiday season is finally here, and everyone, young and old, has been anxiously anticipating its arrival. Unfortunately for some people, “anxious” is precisely how they’re feeling. They don’t see the holiday season for what it is: a time of celebration, joy, friends and family gatherings. Instead, the holidays bring an added sense of loneliness, reflection on “better days,” and concern about the future.

The elderly are especially vulnerable to the “holiday blues.” Some may dread the prospect of spending the holiday season alone or with people they have no real connection to. Others may have lost a family member or close friend in the recent past. Still others may be ill themselves and uncertain of what the days ahead may bring. Whatever the reason, the “holiday blues” are a very real and debilitating issue for many otherwise stable and positive seniors.

Pinpointing the Problem

The good news is that people can get through the season without feeling sad, overwhelmed, and out of step with the rest of the world. The first step is recognizing when help is needed. If someone knows what’s causing the anxiety, he or she is half way to a solution. On the other hand, someone who feels sad and blue but doesn’t know why needs to ask the following questions:

  • Have I recently suffered a significant loss?
  • Am I anticipating such a loss in the near future?
  • What are my expectations about the holidays? Have my holidays generally been happy or unfulfilling occasions?
  • Do I feel like my best years are behind me?
  • Am I anticipating sadness in the coming year?
  • Am I feeling out of step with the people around me in terms of my inability to enjoy life?
  • Do I feel like I have nothing to celebrate?
  • Am I worried about being alone during the holidays?
  • Am I dreading the expense, the stress, or the time demands of preparing for the holidays?

Getting back in control

Understanding the causes of the holiday blues is the first step to putting life back in perspective. Once we’ve isolated the reasons for our distress, we can begin to deal with them… one at a time.

Fighting Loneliness

People who have recently suffered a significant personal loss, or simply find themselves feeling especially disconnected around holiday time, can take steps to minimize their feelings of loneliness.

Keeping in touch. It is important to stay in touch with extended family members throughout the year. Maintaining family ties often results in invitations to share quality time during the holidays. At the very least, it can mean having someone to call on when we’re feeling low.

Taking a class. A good way to divert attention from our problems is by learning a new skill. Whether it’s quilting, painting, playing golf, woodworking, or cooking – the holidays are a great time to get those creative juices flowing.

Getting involved. Most communities offer plenty of opportunities for people of all ages to get together and share good fellowship, especially around the holidays. Your local house of worship, senior center, library, special interest groups and clubs are all great places to meet new friends and socialize.

Sharing with others. There’s nothing like helping others to lift our own spirits. Service organizations and volunteer groups offer many opportunities to help out around the holidays. Perhaps the local fire department needs someone to wrap donated toys and gifts. A homeless shelter may have volunteer opportunities serving meals to those in need. Long-term care centers also often need volunteers to help brighten the days of residents during the holidays.

Sharing our feelings. Instead of sending holiday cards, we might try something different – like sending gratitude cards instead. By telling everyone we know just what makes them special to us and how their love and friendship has helped us throughout the year, we can actually begin to feel better about ourselves.

Sharing our skills. Those with special talents might consider teaching a class at the local night school or community center. Teaching others makes us feel useful and involved. It’s also a great way to meet people with similar interests.

Sharing our faith. Even those for whom the holidays have deep religious significance may fall victim to the holiday blues. If so, it may be helpful to focus on the more spiritual aspects of the season. Attending a special holiday service, a candle lighting ceremony, choir recital, or simply taking a stroll around the community and enjoying the beautiful lights and holiday decorations – can help remind us that we are never really alone.

Avoiding stress

The stress of holiday shopping and gift giving can be overwhelming… if you let it. In fact, there are ways to avoid, or at least minimize, the pressure you may be feeling.

Shop early. By purchasing gifts a few months in advance we can spare ourselves the tension that comes with last minute shopping. Even gift wrapping is more enjoyable when done leisurely. For those with access to the Internet, shopping online can save hours of legwork and help in finding just the right gift in a fraction of the time.

Control spending. We could all avoid the stress of spending too much during the holidays by giving hand-made gifts instead. A hand-knitted sweater, a handcrafted jewelry box, or a delicious box of home-baked cookies are much-appreciated gifts that cost very little. If you’re feeling the pinch during the holidays, don’t be afraid to share your concerns. You may be surprised to find that others are feeling the same.

Making time for ourselves. Around the holidays it’s important to take time to recharge our batteries! Let others share the responsibility of activities and family gatherings. Keep your mind active and body moving. Take walks, ride a bike, or go dancing. Sometimes feeling better is as simple as maintaining a regular program of exercise.

Brighten up your environment... and your outlook

Some people are prone to depression in the winter because of the cold and the lack of natural light. If your home seems dim and dismal during the winter months, it might help to invest in a full-spectrum light source that mimics natural sunlight. Not only can this do wonders for your outlook, but full-spectrum light has been shown to have many positive health benefits as well.