Written by Emily Gurnon for Next Avenue
In the midst of frenetic advertising, pressure to shop for gifts and the ubiquitous seasonal music, the holidays can be an especially hard time if you’re depressed or missing a lost loved one.
The contrast between the “ideal” of the holiday and how we feel inside can be enormous, making the bad or painful feelings all the more pronounced.
“We feel guilty at this time of year if we personally cannot live up to the standard to be ever-cheerful and happy and joyful,” said Dr. Arthur Hayward, national clinical lead in elder care at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif.
Expectations for merriment and joy are high, Hayward said, as evidenced in holiday greeting cards.
“The wishes are not, ‘Have a pretty good Christmas’ or ‘Have an OK New Year,’ but ‘Have the best Christmas ever’ and ‘a very prosperous New Year,’” he said.
For those who are still active, have children at home or have not yet retired, the holiday season can be a whirlwind of activity that feels draining.
Challenging in a different way may be the loneliness of older adults as friends die and family members move away. In a troubling new survey, a quarter of those 65 and older in England said they were not looking forward to Christmas this year, and many of those said it was because “the festive season brings back too many memories of loved ones who have passed away,” according to a poll for the British nonprofit Age UK released earlier this month.
Two-thirds of the 1,793 older adults surveyed reported that loneliness is exacerbated by the holiday season.
Recognizing that many feel a heavier burden of grief this time of year, some churches hold “Blue Christmas” or similar services. December is also the month in which Compassionate Friends, a group for people who have lost a child, holds candlelight ceremonies worldwide.
The shorter days during winter can contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. This malady is not just “the blues,” but a type of major depression, according to the Mayo Clinic. People who are depressed may feel sad, hopeless or worthless; lose interest in things they used to enjoy; sleep too much or too little; have trouble concentrating; have little energy; notice changes in their appetite or weight or have thoughts of dying or suicide, the Mayo Clinic says.
If you feel that you or a loved one are suffering from depression, it’s important to seek treatment, Hayward said.
As difficult as the holidays can be, Hayward offered some advice for coping:
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