We all know the classic song made popular by Andy Williams, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… and the holidays definitely have a way of making us feel nostalgic and warm – sometimes. Describing the holiday season as the most wonderful time of the year might be a stretch for some people though, including senior adults.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a specific form of depression that can be linked to one’s family history or experienced independently during the winter months. It’s increased by the light deprivation that naturally occurs when days are shorter, as well as additional stressors and sadness. So if the lack of light during the fall and winter isn’t already making you feel depressed, the stress of holiday shopping and the general busyness of the season might just do it. And as we age, it’s also more likely that traditional festivities bring to mind the loved ones with whom we used to share these special times, who may no longer be with us. Plus, as the weather gets colder, we’re understandably less likely to get out and interact with people like we usually do when the days are warmer.
Seasonal depression or loneliness during the holidays is often characterized by a loss of energy, decreased appetite, having a hard time focusing, and feeling moody or irritable. Acknowledging the probability that seniors we love may experience these effects during what seems like the busiest time of the year will help us to be prepared to do whatever we can to diminish the severity of the symptoms.
So how can we assist someone who may be affected by loneliness during the holidays? Here are a few tips:
- Be sure to engage with them regularly and encourage social interaction every day. Even lunch with a friend will help break up the winter blues!
- Suggest exercises that are safe for winter – a brisk walk or an indoor yoga class are great options that will increase circulation and produce endorphins that will enhance overall mood.
- Under the direction of a physician, increasing one’s intake of Vitamin D may help decrease symptoms of SAD. A sun lamp or other form of light therapy may also be beneficial.
- Recommend or provide a diet that is nutrient-rich and low in carbohydrates. We all love those Christmas cookies, but eating too many of them will increase feelings of lethargy.
- Make a craft together! Crafting is therapeutic, and can be a great opportunity for mental stimulation and intergenerational fun.
Depression, whether mild or extreme, can occur anytime. But recognizing the potential for it to increase in certain people or during specific times of the year is crucial to minimizing its debilitating influence. For additional information about more serious forms of depression in senior adults, please see the National Institute on Aging.