Beyond the Holiday Blues: 4 Keys for Preventing Full-Blown Depression
Calling it the holiday blues seems a bit dismissive. For many seniors, the sadness they experience during or after the holiday season is much more serious than a cute catch phrase.
And a lot of folks suffer. In fact, an eye-opening 64% of adults says they’re affected by the so-called “holiday blues,” and more than a quarter say they’re affected “a lot” by this phenomenon, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
What’s worse, when combined with other factors – failing health or immobility, loss of friends or family, etc. – the holiday-blues can easily snowball into a full-blown depression, something that can take weeks or even months to come out of.
The good news is that despite the pervasiveness of this all-to-common problem, there are plenty of simple tactics you can take to reduce or, in some cases, eliminate altogether the sadness that seems to always accompany the holidays.
Here are 4 things you can try this year to prevent that nagging sadness from becoming a full-blown depression.
(Note: If you’re looking for something in video form, check out this website with tips from Ken Duckworth, MD.)
1. Set realistic expectations
One of the easiest (and most common) ways to fall into a funk during the holiday season is by making elaborate holiday travel plans only to have those plans fall through right at the eleventh hour.
To avoid this trap, plan any travel well in advance and try to think of any detail that could become an issue during your trip. Remember: The holidays are often busiest times to travel. Ask yourself if you truly think you and your body can handle the delays, traffic and overall chaos that holiday travel always brings.
If you’re going to visit your children and grandchildren, you may need to make sure you’re both on the same page about what you’re looking for during the visit.
For example, they may have some elaborate itinerary planned out to account for every minute of your stay because they want to make sure you have a great visit. You, on the other hand, may prefer to stay to put and spend your days simply enjoying the company of your grandchildren. Discussing this beforehand can help prevent disappointment for you and the folks you’re visiting.
2. Rein in the gift-giving
Many seniors – especially those on fixed incomes – become anxious over the extravagant gift-giving that’s become such a staple of our current holiday culture. Some people even feel a sense of worthlessness when they’re unable to give as much as they used to.
To avoid unequal gifts, set spending limits (e.g., no more than $25) beforehand or organize a Secret Santa. Even better: Experiment with non-traditional gifts such as recipe sharing, keepsake ornaments or crafts that center around a favorite photo. Of course, if you have the means and you want to spoil your loved ones at the holidays, by all means, go for it. To paraphrase the great Jane Fonda, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it, honey!”
3. Don’t forget your diet
Yes, you can – and should – enjoy yourself during the holidays. That often means being a little less rigid about what you eat and drink, even if you have fairly strict dietary restrictions (e.g., low salt, low sugar, low fat, etc.). But it’s so important to avoid going overboard here – especially when it comes to alcohol.
Reason: Alcohol, even in moderation, can intensify the feelings of sadness in aging adults. It can also interfere – or cause serious side effects – when combined with other prescriptions. If you’re planning on having an egg nog or two this year, just be sure you’re not on any medications that cause serious side effects when combined with alcohol.
4. Use technology to your advantage
If health- or scheduling-related issues are going to prevent you from seeing loved ones in person this year, at the very least you can see them remotely. Programs like FaceTime and Skype make connecting so simple even the most tech-averse seniors can spend a little virtual facetime with family without jumping through hoops.
Key: Be sure to schedule this time well advance as the holidays can get crazy, and it’s easy for time to get away from people.
One final note
Lastly, it’s critical to listen to your body and know the signs your suffering from something more serious than a simple case of the holiday blues. Sadness is an obvious sign, but any of these symptoms may indicate the problem is serious enogh to seek profesional help:
- Feeling irritable, anxious or guilty
- Excessive tiredness
- Memory problems, lack of concentration
- Aches and mpains with no specific cause
- Digestive problems, or
- Changes in eating habits (overeating or loss of appetite).