Coping with Winter Blahs and Holiday Stressors

Today’s article written by Shelley Kahn, Volunteer Coordinator

It can happen to us all! The holidays can be a time of great joy and celebration, but often, for many, this time of year can be filled with stress, disappointments, financial concerns and recurrent difficult family issues. Seniors are often more susceptible to the overload of winter and holiday demands, which can sometimes cause a spiraling into physical and psychological decline.

A recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that 61% of Americans list the lack of money as the top cause of holiday stress, followed closely by the need and pressures of gift giving. Often high expectations, feelings of isolation, grief issues, interfaith concerns and overwhelming demands can create feelings of sadness and may contribute to physical ailments such as headaches and difficulty sleeping.

Wintertime in Louisville is often a gray and dreary season. The days are shorter and colder, leaving us with fewer opportunities to be outside. At this time of year, seniors can become mildly depressed, brought on by the stress from the holidays, and the lack of exposure to sufficient sunlight. Cornell University’s data reveals that winter blues, and its more serious counterpart, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), affects as many as four times more women than men.

What kinds of strategies have been found to help curb the pressures from the holidays and the winter blues?

1. Set realistic goals. No one is a “Martha Stewart”, including Martha herself. She has an entire team that assists her with holiday plans. It is suggested that you should try to “deal with your idealized fantasies of what a holiday needs to be, and then make decisions that are real”.

2. Move your body. Aerobic exercise has been proven to improve mood and to reduce stress.

3. Limit your alcohol consumption since excessive drinking can lead to feelings of depression.

4. Get organized in advance. Taking small steps now to prepare for the holidays will help you avoid last minute pressures.

5. Revise your traditions. JFCS therapist, Lauren Kehr suggests that “doing the same old thing for the holidays might not be a good fit any more”.

6. Make a budget and stick to it. Decide in advance how much you have to spend on gifts and live within your budget.

7. Try to get necessary sunlight by sitting by a window or investigate purchasing a “light box”. Many studies have found that those suffering from winter blues experienced relief from regular use of “light boxes” which emit high intensities of light.

8. Make new connections. Good relationships with family are always important, but not always possible. Reach out to others for the support and relationships you need.

9. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and sadness by comparing today with the “good old days” of the past. Real life is not television, and it’s certainly not similar to “The Walton’s”.

10. Pace yourself. JFCS therapist, Lauren Kehr suggests “setting lower expectations, so that you can be pleasantly surprised if more comes about!” Perhaps most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Stop and enjoy!


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