For better or worse, there’s no hiding from the holidays. As we move through November, public spaces fill up with decorations, TV advertising reaches a fever pitch and seasonal music becomes the soundtrack to our daily lives.
For some, all of this creates a sense of mounting excitement. For others, including older adults who may be lonely, depressed or missing a loved one, it can create a sense of mounting anxiety.
Why older adults suffer from holiday depression
A 2017 survey carried out by AARP found that 28% of U.S. adults aged 50 and over reported feeling lonely during the holiday season over the previous five years.
Why are older adults vulnerable to seasonal depression? For some (particularly those in the northern U.S.), it’s because the holidays coincide with the shortest, coldest days of the year and the peak of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For many others, it’s because the festive season brings back memories of happier times with loved ones who have passed away. A 2019 survey by the British non-profit Age UK found that more than three-quarters of adults over 65 (77%) agreed that the first holiday season after a bereavement was the hardest.
How to reduce depression around the holidays
- Spend time with the people who make you happy. Even if you’re close to your family, sharing the holidays with them may not be right for you. Perhaps your children and grandchildren pass the season in a whirlwind of celebrations that leaves you exhausted or feeling left out. If that’s the case, it’s okay to shorten your stay or to suggest another, more peaceful occasion for a visit.
- Connect with people like you. If you know someone else who is grieving a loved one or might be feeling lonely, send them a handwritten card to let them know they’re in your thoughts. Helping someone else at a time of need can be a powerful way to boost your mood.
- Treat yourself. Consider putting aside some money throughout the year so you can give yourself a special gift for the holidays. It could be a trip to sunnier climate or something as simple as buying a beautiful knitted sweater that caught your eye.
- Learn to distinguish between clinical depression and the holiday blues. If your holidays involve moments of sadness interspersed with happier times, your mood should lift in time. However, suppose you feel hopeless or worthless and have little interest in the activities that usually bring you pleasure. In that case, you may be suffering from SAD or some other form of depression. There are many effective ways to combat this, so contact your health care practitioner for advice and treatment.
- Be kind to yourself. Finally, never punish yourself for feeling sad, or feel guilty that you’re not in the festive spirit. It’s okay to feel depressed or lonely, and you don’t need to pretend otherwise. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member and talk about your feelings. Sometimes a kind or sympathetic word from a loved one is all it takes to lift your mood.
Living in a community with other older adults makes it easier to find sympathetic companions — not only during the holidays but throughout the year. If you’d like to learn more about life at The Village at Providence Point, check out our latest events, or contact us today for an informal chat.