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Post-holiday depression

Question:

After the holidays I thought my mother would feel happier, but she’s depressed. Is this normal? 
 
Answer:
 
Depression after the holidays, especially among older people, isn’t all that uncommon. In fact, a good number of people report feeling “let down” after the holidays. There are plenty of reasons why a “White Christmas” can turn blue:
 
  • Unrealistic expectations. The barrage of holiday ads on television portray happy families and couples sharing expensive gifts, giving people unrealistic expectations that they, too, are going to enjoy a magical time with the picture-perfect family. Instead, it’s not uncommon for strained relationships, unresolved conflicts or frayed nerves among family members to erupt before the first gift is even opened.
  • Credit card guilt. Whether you got caught up in the season or the music in the mall had you under a Santa spell, you might have spent more than what you could reasonably afford. The financial strain of paying off the debt long after the warm glow of watching loved ones open their presents can cause anyone to feel down. On the flip side, if you couldn’t afford to buy gifts you wanted to give, you may also feel guilty. And it’s not just spending on presents that adds up: paying for food, decorations and travel all chip away at the family budget. This is especially tough for those on fixed incomes.
  • Physical and emotional exhaustion. Since Thanksgiving, most people have been on the go, preparing for family get-togethers and travel, organizing schedules, shopping for food, baking, preparing large meals, buying and wrapping gifts, and fighting crowds and traffic at the malls. It’s extremely exhausting and, if you’re older and not in the best of health, all of these activities are more taxing. And those who can no longer keep up may feel disappointed in themselves that “they aren’t who they used to be.” Weight gain and lack of energy caused by overindulging in high-carb, high-sugar foods can also lead to feeling depressed.
  • Sad reminders. Holidays are especially hard for those who have lost a loved one or recently went through a divorce. It is difficult to watch others enjoy the companionship they used to share, and can call up the grief they felt when their loved one first died or left. Older relatives who used to host the annual family gathering but are no longer in a position to do so may feel relief from the responsibility, but also a sense of loss as they see their role change in the family and watch loved ones go their separate ways. Loss of good health, independence, and feeling vulnerable to harsh winter weather, along with the lack of sunlight, can bring on feelings of sadness. And for some, the loss of family and friends has resulted in, spending the holidays alone.
 
It’s not hard to see why your mom might be feeling the post-holiday blues. You could help her by encouraging her to go out with friends. Get family members (especially grandkids) to call and reminisce about the good time they had with her, or send her a photo book of the family get together. Make an extra effort to do something with her like going to the movies or getting your nails done. Or ask if she’d like you to help her find an interesting volunteer activity or track down an old friend she’s lost touch with. Staying physically active is one of the best defenses against depression. Joining a mall walking group is a great way to feel sun shining through skylights during cold winter days and meet some interesting people.
 
Bottom line: look in on your mom, keep her active and let her know she’s your “Christmas” – all year long. 
 
 
 
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