Some of the things we love most about the holiday season can make it a stressful time as we get older. While the focus on family, traditions, and beloved memories normally brings us joy, it can cause feelings of melancholy in older adults.
Along with celebrations, the holidays come with disruptions to routine, poignant memories of spouses and loved ones lost, and reminders of conditions that may limit participation in festivities. All of these factors can contribute to feelings of stress, isolation, or depression.
If you’re celebrating the holidays with a senior who may be at risk for holiday blues, follow these tips to help minimize the negative impact of holiday stressors during this festive season.
Tips to Help Seniors Manage Holiday Stress
You can enhance your senior loved one’s holiday experience by being aware of situations that might trigger anxiety or melancholy, and intervening before a positive moment becomes negative.
Follow NOEL: Note, Observe, Expect, Limit
- Note the effect that holiday atmosphere and activities are having on your loved one.
- Observe normal routines as much as possible to minimize anxiety and stress.
- Expect to adapt traditions so that senior relatives can participate.
- Limit the expectations you place on yourself and on the day.
Be a compassionate listener.
People have high expectations for the holiday season. They want it to be a time of unadulterated joy, love, and togetherness. For that reason, one source of holiday blues for seniors is feeling like they’re not allowed to share their sadness as they mourn those who are no longer around to celebrate, even as they rejoice in spending time with the people who are. Simply asking a senior if they want to talk and lending a listening ear can do wonders to make them feel more at peace during the holidays.
Remind them how important they are to you.
When physical limitations prevent seniors from fully participating in holiday festivities or contributing to family traditions, they may feel like they’re on the outskirts of the celebration. Look for opportunities to remind them how meaningful it is to share the holiday season together. That might mean sitting down for a conversation while another activity is taking place, or suggesting an alternative that allows them to participate. Take special care not to imply that anything you do to include them is done out of duty. They don’t want to be a burden.
Bring the holidays to them.
If your loved one is in memory care or assisted living, they might not be able to make the journey to attend family gatherings. In that case, plan a way to bring the holidays to them, in one form or another. You could gather the children in the family to sing carols in their community, join them to attend a holiday service together in the community’s chapel, or ask to borrow a community room for a couple hours to share a home-cooked Christmas dinner. Traditions are important, especially as we age, so try to connect your plans to one of your loved one’s favorite family traditions.
Making your loved one feel included in holiday celebrations while giving them space to feel their mixed emotions during the holiday season will help turn their holiday blues into peace and joy. Above all, refrain from putting too much pressure on the season to be perfect. It will be perfect just as it is simply because your family is celebrating together.