Why do my mom and some of her friends get so depressed before and during the holidays?
Holidays can be bittersweet. Family gatherings can make it all the more noticeable that some members are absent due to divorce, death, unresolved family feuds and long distances. Despite being in a room filled with family and well wishers, your mom could still feel utterly alone, but won’t share how she’s feeling for fear of putting a damper on everyone else’s good time. So, while others are listening to holiday music, your mom is singing the holiday blues in her head.
The commercialization of the holidays might also be a contributor. We’re bombarded with picture-perfect images of extremely happy loved ones handing out lavish gifts amidst the dazzling display of holiday decorations, and a dinner feast laid out in Martha Stewart fashion. Unrealistic expectations run high and can lead to disappointment and even guilt, says Dr. Roger Cadieux, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine. For older adults, add in the quiet grieving for loved ones who have died, the stress of a fixed income, and lack of energy or physical abilities to keep up with the holidays and it is no wonder they can get depressed during the holidays. They’re simply more vulnerable to a case of holiday blues.
But it is possible to navigate the holidays and keep your mom happy and healthy. Here are some tips to help you do this:
- Encourage your mom to acknowledge her holiday blues. If you also have mixed emotions about the holidays, let her know. You’ll be giving her permission to not feel guilty about being downhearted. Not until you know what’s making her feel sad can you address it.
- Don’t let unnecessary traditions box you and your mom into unrealistic expectations of each other and other family members. Circumstances change, and so should your responses to them. It may be time to create a new tradition or celebrate get-togethers that aren’t fixated on one day, relieving the potential conflict over whose relatives receive top billing.
- Encourage your mom to do something for someone else to fight the holiday blues. Call your local church or synagogue to see if they are sending gifts to our troops overseas. She might want to send a gift to a resident at your local nursing home, take a resident out for a drive through neighborhoods with cheery holiday lights, or send gifts to women and children at a local shelter. Even if this can’t be done before Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanza – then do it for the New Year.
- Make gift shopping easier for your mom by taking advantage of the wide array of gift cards that you can easily find at most grocery stores. She’ll be giving something more personal than simply giving money and you’re not running around trying to figure out who wants what – especially teenaged grandchildren. Also, be sure to help her keep her finances in check with her gift-giving.
- If she has always liked sending out cards, but just didn’t get to it this year, offer to help her with sending out a New Year’s card. Perhaps you could write and print out a short note with news your mom would like to share with those who sent her cards. She won’t feel guilty about not getting her cards out and you can do this during the lull after the 25th.
- Get some sun. Most experts will tell you that there really is something to Seasonal Anxiety Disorder (SAD), where lack of sunlight leaves us all feeling a bit down during this time of year and contribute to a case of the holiday blues. So, if a sunny day appears, move a chair and sit near a window or go to the mall with an open glass ceiling to soak in some sun.
- Find a way to acknowledge and remember family members who have died. Sometimes, we think that if we talk about loved ones who have passed, we’ll make those closest to them even more depressed. However, avoiding mention of the loved one often has the opposite effect, making the grieving person feel a tinge of anger as he or she quietly thinks, “How soon they forget.” Linda Rhodes, Chief Gerontologist at Homecare.com says: “My youngest brother absolutely loved Christmas and cherished our family get-together every Christmas Eve. When he died at 44 years of age, leaving two young children, we were devastated. Now, we have a photo of Paul as a child with Santa centered in the living room where we exchange gifts and light a candle in his memory.”
- The holidays can often be a perfect time to pay homage to loved ones who have passed and not be a source of holiday depression
Just because your picture of the holidays has changed doesn’t mean you can’t still make it perfect for yourself and your family. All it takes is communication, understanding, flexibility – and love.