by Daniel J. O’Leary, Executive Director, Mystic Valley Elder Services
Q: Over the past year, I have experienced some major life changes and I’m finding it very
difficult to feel positive during this holiday season. Why am I so miserable?
A: This is absolutely one of the hardest times of year for many folks, and your feelings of
sadness, loss, or isolation are very common, regardless of what you may see on television.
The days are cold and short and it’s harder to get exercise than in the nicer months. Couple
that with the intense pressure to be cheerful, even for those who may not celebrate the
holidays, plus the complicated feelings we may have about past holidays, and it’s a recipe
for anxiety and, often, the blues.
So let’s turn our focus to finding ways to combat seasonal depression or flat out prevent it.
Here are some positive steps that may help you feeling healthier this winter:
- Acknowledge your feelings and let yourself off the hook! For all the reasons listed
above and countless others, it’s okay to not feel like a holiday card all of the time. If
someone in your life is taking pains to make you feel like a Grinch, be an advocate for
yourself and ask them to stop—or even avoid them for the next month or so.
- Reach out. Being alone and being lonely is not the same thing, of course. But if you are
feeling particularly isolated, please seek out your community! Book clubs, activity
groups in your building, and civic or religious organizations are good places to start.
Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden
- Don’t abandon healthy habits. Be kind to your body and mind by maintaining your
self-care practices. Continue to get plenty of sleep, seek out sunshine and keep active, all
of which can help fight the chemical causes of holiday blues.
- Create your own traditions. It’s not like there are rules for how you spend your next
few weeks! If the loss of old traditions is making you glum, adapt them to your new life
circumstances or build something new. If you used to cook for family, try cooking for (or
with!) your neighbors. Invite a former co-worker to lunch. If you live in a residence with staff, spend some time with them on a holiday afternoon to brighten their workday. Organize a brunch for others who don’t celebrate the holidays or have no families nearby.
- Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Even if you spend plenty of time on your own, dedicating time to spend on yourself (cooking yourself a nice meal, exercising or doing deep breathing, journaling, taking a walk on a mild night to stargaze, listening to soothing music) will help you return to yourself, and remember that you deserve care and calm.
- Seek professional help if you need it. You may find it empowering to face the winter holiday season with your own health and wellbeing in mind. But if despite your best efforts, you feel persistently sad or anxious, unable to sleep and dismayed by even routine tasks. If these feelings last for a while, ask for help. The counsel of a mental health professional may be precisely what you need, and there’s certainly no shame in asking for what you need to be a healthy, fulfilled person. Mystic Valley Elder Services operates a mobile mental health program for older adults who need professional mental health services but have difficulty leaving their homes for treatment or counseling. To find out more about this service, call us at 781-324- 7705. I extend my sincerest best wishes for your winter to be a contemplative, peaceful, and healthy time. Most importantly, I hope that you remember that you are not alone: in these feelings, or in this world. You have community, and we are here to help.
Tips adapted from the Mayo Clinic.