Posts

Here, we provide Part II of our Caregiving and Holidays blog. If you missed Part I, check it out. As we continue to explore this topic, depression cannot go without addressing.

Caregiving and Depression

Caregiving for aging loved ones during the holidays can bring us joy as well as sadness and pain. It can contribute to depression, despite glad tidings.

Older adult woman walking in snow

Photo by Nikolai Voelcker on Unsplash

Memories

You may recall unhappy memories over the holidays. We naturally remember old times and sometimes our memories are more bitter than sweet. You may also find yourself dwelling on what is missing rather than what is present.

Toxic Relatives

Holidays can put us in the same room with relatives we avoid the rest of the year. Some relatives can lack compassion and dismiss depression. They may view it laziness or selfishness. This can feel all the more hurtful.

Reminders of What Has Changed

The holidays often highlight all that has changed in your life. This can add to holiday stress.

Operate with Lowered Defenses

During the holiday season, you’re more likely to overindulge, leaving your defenses lowered. Limit alcohol, overeating and over-doing it. Instead, overindulge in laughter, rest, healthy eating and exercise.

Coping with Depression

Following are some ways to cope with depression over the holidays.

Acknowledge your Feelings

It’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s ok to cry and express your feelings of sadness and grief. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season and that’s ok.

Older woman on the phoneReach Out

If you feel lonely or isolated, seek community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. It is important not to isolate yourself. Rather, reach out for help and connect with others as a way to heal.

Be Realistic

The holidays don’t have to be perfect or the way they were years ago. As families grow and change, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few traditions to hold onto while remaining open to creating new ones.

Set Aside Differences

Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. Try to provide understanding if others get upset or distressed when something does not go according to plan. Chances are, they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

Hold on to Healthy Habits

The holidays don’t have to become a free-for-all. Overindulgence may add to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.

Take a Breather

Take some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Seek Professional Help if you Need It

Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Talking to a therapist may help. You can search for one online.

Seniors & Depression

Older people often find as the holiday season unfolds, they feel progressively disappointed, stressed and sad.

Reminders of past losses: 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.

Coping with failing health: The holidays can often serve to underscore the limitations failing health imposes on the ability to participate in once-enjoyed activities.

How to Brighten the Holidays

Seniors and their family members, friends and caregivers can do many things to help prevent, recognize and manage holiday depression. To avoid the holiday blues, stay active, interested, engaged and healthy.

Be social: Plan activities you think a loved one would enjoy and contact family members with whom they would enjoy spending time. Maintain contact with the world. Phone calls and visits, no matter how brief, help everyone stay connected.

Take care: Make sure each person in your care remains in good health, gets plenty of sleep, eats nutritiously and stays as active as possible.

Talk about it: If you think someone is experiencing depression, talk with a doctor, spiritual advisor or friend that your loved one trusts.

Be available: Make transportation and services readily available.  If loved ones feel like a bother, that can make them feel even worse.

Lend an ear: If you think your loved one is depressed, explain to them your concerns. Lend an empathetic ear and offer to accompany the individual to a doctor.

Lend your eyes: Help friends or loved ones with limited eyesight write out or read holiday greetings.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Alzheimer’s and dementia can add an additional dimension to holiday stress due to the changes in the care recipient’s condition or lack of understanding among family members.

Familiarize others with the situation:  Let guests know what to expect before they arrive. Family can help with communication by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts.   Make sure visitors understand that changes in behavior and memory are caused by the disease and not the person. You may find this easier to share changes in a letter or email that can be sent to multiple recipients.

Adjust expectations: For example, move gatherings to brunch instead of dinner, if evenings are a problem. Try to avoid known triggers.

Involve the care recipient: Build on past traditions and memories. Focus on activities that are meaningful to the person with dementia. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs or looking through old photo albums.

Involve the person in holiday preparation. This could be as simple as having the person measure an ingredient or hand decorations to you as you hang them.

Adapt gift giving: Encourage safe and useful gifts for the person with dementia. Diminishing capacity may make some gifts unusable or even dangerous to a person with dementia. If someone asks for gift ideas, suggest items the person with dementia needs or can easily enjoy. Don’t forget to ask for something for yourself.

Celebrating in a facility: A holiday is still a holiday whether it is celebrated at home or at a care facility. Here are some ways to celebrate together:

  • Consider joining your loved one in any facility-planned holiday activities
  • Bring a favorite holiday food to share
  • Sing holiday songs and ask if other residents can join in
  • Read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud

Many people struggle with emotions during the holidays, especially those who care for aging loved ones. The days get shorter and media messages create a false sense of the “perfect” holiday experience to which many cannot relate. We can enjoy the holiday season by celebrating our lives and those we love.

miniature Christmas scene

Stress & Holidays

Stress, frustration and anger can easily replace peace and good will for a number of reasons during the holidays:

  • Caring for someone severely ill, disabled or cognitively impaired may leave caregivers feeling like they cannot participate as fully as they would like in holiday activities.
  • Already overwhelmed with caregiving tasks, many view holiday preparations as an additional drain.
  • Caregivers may feel resentful towards other family members who they feel have not offered enough assistance. Luckily, there are strategies for coping.

Strategies for Coping

  • Communicate: It’s difficult to talk about a loved one’s decline. Honest communication about the realities of it allows others to assist. Sharing the truths of your situation may help reduce the isolation and lack of appreciation you may feel.
  • Clarify your energy level: Let family members know that your caregiving duties keep you busy and that you only have so much energy for holiday preparation and hosting duties. Learn to say no!
  • Adapt: Caregivers need to adapt their traditional role or experience of the holidays. Allow or ask another family member to host more time-intensive festivities. You may also need to modify your time to match the comfort level of your loved one. You will have to choose which events to attend based upon which are simplest, least exhausting and most enjoyable for you and the person you care for.
  • Share your wish list: Whether it’s respite from caregiving, home repairs that you need or plain care for you, make your wishes known.
  • Reflect on the rewards: Focus on the positive. Reflecting on the rewards of caregiving can help maintain your drive. If you need help with that, check out one of our caregiving seminars.
  • Be flexible: When something doesn’t go the way you’d planned, laugh, regroup and make the best of it. Rather than letting the mishaps control you, control them by keeping your sense of humor, keeping a positive perspective and adapting to different solutions.

Caring for Yourself

Exercise: Taking a brisk walk is a great way to release pent up frustrations. Set aside time to walk as often as you can. You can even walk with or push the person you provide care for in a wheelchair. In the winter, you can walk at the Mall or an indoor track. Exercise also increases endorphins which reduces stress and elevates your mood.

Take breaks: Take daily, weekly, monthly and yearly breaks. Try to plan a daily break to do an activity you enjoy. Then, plan a weekly activity, such as a trip to the library or a movie. A monthly break might include a night out with friends. A yearly break could mean a vacation. Plan ahead and arrange for care of your loved one. Removing yourself from the situation for a period, can give you a fresh perspective as well as recharge your batteries.

Give a gift to yourself:  Slow down and be kind to yourself. Take a break and enjoy the holiday. You do what you can and no one can expect more than that. Meditate. Practicing a daily meditation technique gives you the experience of deep rest.

Keep shopping simple:  Use non-traditional methods, such as catalogs or internet. Consider gift cards. Financial concerns can be part of the stress of the holidays. Set a budget beforehand and try to stick to it. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Prepare for post-holiday let down:  Often, despite our best efforts to create a wonderful holiday season, we may feel let down. We may feel burned out, crabby, apathetic, impatient and/or exhausted. Often, we set the expectations too high and/or linger on past memories of the holidays.

Seek support:  Have coffee with a friend and talk about your feelings. Join or continue to attend a support group. Seek professional help if you find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, physically ill, unable to sleep, irritable, hopeless and unable to focus on routine chores.