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How To Deal With Stress & Depression Over The Holidays

How to Deal with Stress & Depression Over the Holidays

For seniors and their caregivers, the holidays can add more stress to an already stressful situation. Each individual comes to the holidays with their own set of expectations and when reality falls short, hard feelings, resentment and depression can ensue. However, a smoother, less stressful road through the holidays is possible. It requires a bit of advance planning and in some cases, recalibrating family celebrations.

Sometimes recalibration equals success

As family members age and illness begins to complicate their lives, recalibrating the holidays to account for those changes can make a vast difference in the success of family gatherings. Before scheduling traditional family celebrations, consider the current health of the senior family member(s):

  • Do they have physical limitations that will impact their ability to attend?
  • Do they move more slowly than in years past, adding time to walking and moving between the car and the house?
  • Do they have problems hearing?
  • Do they have dietary issues, or problems chewing or swallowing?
  • Do they have cognitive difficulties?
  • Do noise and chaotic environments trouble and/or confuse them?

If any of these are true, then recalibrating family celebrations may help the senior to participate, increase their enjoyment, reduce stress on other family members, and avoid isolation. The goal is to accomplish this without adding more stress. Here are some different ways to recalibrate holiday celebrations. One might work for your family:

  1. Schedule a smaller family celebration. Bring the senior to the location where the family will be celebrating before everyone arrives. Fewer people will make it easier for the senior to participate and hear.
  2. Schedule a separate family celebration. Depending upon the schedule of your traditional family celebrations, you may be able to schedule a smaller, separate celebration that includes the senior either the day before, or after, the holiday.
  3. If the senior will attend the full family celebration, arrange for a quiet room to which the senior can retire to take a break from the noise. If possible, set up a chair, lamp and reading materials in a den or bedroom. The senior will be part of the celebrations but will also have a chance to rest.
  4. Take the celebrations to the senior. Create a separate holiday the day before or after the holiday and take decorations, food and gifts to the senior.
  5. Slow the celebrations down. If previously the celebrations moved rapid fire from one event, or one house, to the other, determine how many the senior can successfully attend. Plan to take the senior home before he or she becomes fatigued.

If you choose one of these strategies make sure and tell your elderly loved one about the changes in advance. Tell them you have changed things so that everyone can enjoy the holidays without getting tired. Be positive and upbeat.

There is one more strategy that can help reduce stress for the senior. If a specific family member is especially close to the senior, ask him or her to keep an eye on the senior. If  the senior becomes fatigued, loses interest or becomes agitated, the loved one can take the senior to a quiet spot in the house to visit and talk, thereby giving the senior a break.

These strategies can support elderly family members and help them to make it through the holidays successfully and with dignity. It can also reduce stress and worry for the adults in charge of the celebrations.

Watch for depression

Despite your best efforts, elderly family members may experience increased depression during the holidays. Unfortunately, many people of all ages grieve and feel loss more acutely during this time of year. Some feel that they can’t keep up with commercial expectations for gift giving. Others simply feel overwhelmed with the prospect of being cheerful and interacting with large numbers of people. You can help your loved one to cope with depression during the holidays with some of the following tips:

  1. Encourage your loved one to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation and exhaustion exacerbate the symptoms of depression. Sleep helps to refresh the brain and gives the person more energy with which to fight depression.
  2. If the senior has recently lost a loved one, urge them to find a support group. Go to meetings with them if that will increase their participation. Support group leaders are trained to help individuals move through grief and loss, especially through emotion-packed times of year like the holidays.
  3. Exercise more. As exercise fills the body and brain with fresh oxygen it improves brain function and mood. If possible, take the senior for walks in a local mall, or outdoor if the weather allows.
  4. Avoid overeating and sugar. Rather than taking lots of sweets and sugar-packed holiday foods to the senior, take fresh strawberries or other fruits he or she enjoys. A few holiday sweets are good, but eating too much can cause fatigue and a sugar crash just hours after eating it.
  5. Acknowledge how the senior feels. If your loved one has experienced loss, is fighting illness, or dislikes the holidays, acknowledge how he or she feels. Ask what you can do to help and show them compassion. Accommodate their feelings as much as possible when planning holiday celebrations.

It’s an understatement to say that the holidays are challenging. Regardless of the best planning and preparation it is a stressful time of year. These tips may help you to reduce stress for yourself and your loved ones, and help the entire family to enjoy the celebrations. At the end of the day, sometimes human compassion and a kind word are the best medicine.


If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater San Diego, Family Matter In-Home Care has offices in Campbell, CAPalo Alto, CAPleasanton, CASan Marcos, CA, and San Mateo, CA.