Older Adults, Loneliness And The Holidays

Although the holiday season is supposed to be a time of sharing joy and good tidings, very often people—especially those who are older—find that, as the season unfolds, they feel progressively disappointed, stressed and sad.

There are many influencing factors that can contribute to seniors being at particular risk of suffering from the “holiday blues,” including:

  • Reminders of past losses of significant loved ones–Many seniors have survived a number of their cherished friends and family members and these losses often take on greater significance during the holidays.
  • Sadness over the contrast between “then” and “now”—For many older people, the memories of holidays past so outshine present day celebrations they feel unable to focus on or experience pleasure in the “now.”
  • Unrealistic expectations—the holidays can bring a host of expectations, such as family togetherness, festive events and feelings of expanded happiness. Reality too often falls short of these expectations, which can cause an individual to plummet to new lows of sadness, feelings of loneliness and despair.
  • Spending the holidays alone—Some seniors live by themselves and/or at a distance from friends and family and spend much, if not all, of the holidays alone. Grown children often become busy with their own social obligations and may not realize how much their parents or grandparents look forward to sharing time during the holidays with them.

If You Are An Older Adult Feeling Lonely This Hoiliday Season:  

The following strategies can be useful in helping to get around potential sources of the “holiday blues”:

  • Adjust your expectations—For example, if you think the perfect family get-together won’t be a part of this year’s holidays, keeping this realistic assumption in mind can help you avoid frustration when and if something should go wrong or be less than desirable when your family gets together.
  • Limit predictable sources of stress—If you feel the annual trappings of shopping, decorating, cooking and attending social events risks becoming overwhelming and stressful, limit the activities you commit to.
  • Seek new, enjoyable ways of getting physical exercise—Exercising, for example, aerobics, walking, skiing, hiking, yoga, or swimming can help burn away a lot of stress as well as the extra calories of holiday meals.
  • Get together with friends and family members—As much as possible, share the holidays with friends and family members in person, as well by phone, e-mail, and mail. The holiday season is also a good time to contact someone you have not heard from for awhile. For those who have recently suffered the loss of someone especially close, spend time with special friends and family with whom you can reminisce and share stories and cherished memories about your loved one.
  • Join a social group—Feelings of loneliness and isolation can often be remedied by participating in activities with others. This can also help in opening up the potential for making new friends.
  • Engage in volunteer activity—Helping others is a pretty foolproof method of making the holidays feel more meaningful. There are many volunteer organizations that need extra help during this time of year.
  • Adopt a pet—Many have found that assuming the responsibility of caring for and loving a pet brings new joy and companionship into their lives.
  • Remember that life brings changes–As families change and grow, traditions often need to adapt to the new configurations. While you can hold onto certain family rituals, for instance, a certain holiday activity or preparing a long-cherished family recipe, some traditions, such as everyone gathering at your house, may not be possible this year. Each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by comparing this year’s holiday season with the “good ol’ days.”

Though intense and unsettling, the holiday blues are usually short-lived and last a few weeks around the holidays.  The sadness usually subsides after the holiday season is over and the individual gets back to their normal routine. 

If you know of an older adult who is feeling sad this season, reach out to them.  You can help them to enjoy the present, reflect positively on the past, while encouraging them to stay connected to others. This may be the best gift you can offer them during the holidays.

Laura Kay House is the owner of  SILVER CONNECTIONS, a socializing group for single, active, age 55+ adults.  Numerous socializing opportunities are provided through local events and travel while stressing personal service and a sense of community within the membership.      www.silverconnections.org