Seasonal holidays, as well as anniversaries and birthdays, can be time markers that symbolize how much has changed in our lives. Depression and feelings of loss and grief can strike anyone at any time, but during the holiday season these feelings often seem to be more profound than at other times of the year.
Retail stores and the media bombard us with idealized images of holiday joy and togetherness – families trimming trees and cooking together, gift-giving and parties going on everywhere. We imagine that everyone is busy and having a great time. If someone we spent many holidays with is no longer alive, we tend to focus on our feelings of loss and aloneness. Elevated expectations, loneliness and other factors can surface around holidays causing “holiday blues.”
It is important to be aware of and acknowledge these feelings. When people feel isolated, but pretend everything is okay, the feeling of isolation actually intensifies. Reflect on of how sad feelings were handled in your family when you were growing up. Did people talk about loss or was it viewed as being so painful that people kept silent? As adults, we have a choice; we can select the way we respond to situations. We have the opportunity to view our lives in new ways and choose to treat ourselves well.
Perhaps some of these suggestions will help you find peace and contentment during this holiday season:
Create traditions that are relevant for your life as it is now, perhaps setting up smaller gatherings during the hours when you typically have the most energy.
Choose to be with people who help you feel good about yourself. Seek out like-minded people with a good sense of humor who are interested and interesting.
Find someone to talk to who will understand your feelings.
Listen to your body and pay attention to what it tells you.
Set up a personal daily schedule; be sure to include some form of physical activity and exercises for your mind (lectures, doing puzzles).
Volunteer (there are many opportunities to help others).
Focus on the positive things in your life.
Reconnect with self-soothing activities that you did in the past. Find things that bring you pleasure (listening to music, reading, taking a walk on a sunny day, going to a park, taking a warm bath, eating a good meal).
If you are alone, go to a community gathering place where there are other people (a mall, library, a restaurant with a friendly environment).
Recreate in your imagination people who have helped you in the past, people who were part of your support system, and consider what they might say to you now to comfort you.
If despite your best efforts to remain upbeat this holiday season, you find yourself feeling down for a sustained period of time, get help. Don’t try to “tough it out” alone. There are treatment options available to you that could make a significant difference in your outlook.
Sheila Segal, MFT, Clinical Coordinator, Peer Counseling; and Marlena Ross, PhD, Manager, Peer Counseling, are both at Center for Healthy Aging in Santa Monica. The Center offers peer counseling and other services for people 55 and older. For information, call 310.576.2550 x217.