By Eli Follick
It’s December, and signs of the holidays are inescapable. Stores display every imaginable decorative item, gift possibilities galore, and more accessories than any reasonable person needs to assemble a celebratory feast. I remember the office parties, the cookie exchanges, the family get-togethers, and writing cards till my hand was numb. Our society prescribes joy, even elation, this month, but for many, positive feelings are not an easily obtainable commodity.
Now that I am older, for example, my family lives in a state that is a half a country away. As I age, it is more difficult for me to travel long distances. I haven’t been on a plane since the beginning of Covid, and as such, I have had to face the possibility of never seeing my children, grandchildren, and great-grandson in person. There is no way to describe the stress I feel. I also don’t work anymore, so office parties are gone.
I still want to enjoy the season; the holiday’s festive sights, sounds, and crowds have always appealed to me. I have learned and tried many techniques to shed negative perspectives, but I recognize that unless you have family and friends near, it’s difficult to get into the spirit of things. This is not uncommon. According to a pre-pandemic survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people said their stress increased during the holiday season.
Seniors, in particular, may be coping with the loss of loved ones, loss of their independence, and the absence of traditional celebrations, leading to feelings of sadness and depression.
According to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, the most common symptoms of depression in older adults include:
- Persistent sadness
- Feeling slowed down
- Excessive worry
- Frequent tearfulness
- Feeling worthless or helpless
- Weight changes
- Pacing or fidgeting
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Somatic complaints (unexplained physical pain or gastrointestinal problems)
- Withdrawal from social activities
As the days go by, depression can lead to stress. The medical community cites stress as a risk factor for a number of physical conditions. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can lead to illness, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, increased risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Digestive problems, including ulcers, are also possible.
Almost any stress can derail a journey to health. A critical component to stress management and reduction is to identify its cause. Recognizing the triggers and the emotional and physical responses you may have for stress is important, as this awareness can enable you to make changes to mitigate it.
To help manage my stress this time of year, I adjust my expectations and
adopt realistic goals. This takes intentional, clear thinking, determination, and planning. For example, I plan to visit with neighbors and friends, taking whatever precautions are necessary to protect my health. This requires coordination, contact, and calendar notations. All of this is worth it. When necessary, I will reach out to family and friends through video calls, cards, emails, and phone calls.
I also focus on eating healthfully and in moderation so that I enjoy my
favorite foods, without overdoing it. Maintaining a regular exercise regimen is important. I’ll try to explore a new activity or hobby and think of it as a gift to myself.
I volunteer to help others who may be in need of assistance, taking the focus off of myself – serving holiday dinners at churches or food banks, or visiting a nursing home or hospital. Nothing brings a bigger smile to my face than handing a bedridden child a small gift. Try providing some respite for a caregiver.
Staying away from TV and computer screens featuring accidents, shootings, and other negatives is also helpful.
Mindfulness training, or the practice of being in the present, has helped me quite a bit, as has “self-talk.” Self-talk includes a whole string of words that are positive and rewarding: I am good. I accomplished what I needed to do today. I have planned for tomorrow. I am generous, I am compassionate, I am open-minded, I am creative, I am
trusting, I am a problem solver, and many more. These affirmations remind me that I have done all I could to help myself and help others, and that have not wasted a moment.
These are suggestions that have worked for me. However, for some people, depression is a more serious, clinical condition. Depending on the symptoms you or someone you know has and how they affected daily life, it may be a good idea to seek professional help. It’s critical to get medical support when you don’t think you can solve the problem by yourself.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), your doctor is your best first line of assistance. The New Mexico Crisis and Access Line is also open 24/7 at 1 (855) NMCRISIS (1-855-662-7474), and the City of Albuquerque website provides a list of resources at https://www.cabq.gov/help/mental-health. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, it’s important to call 911 so help can be sent right away.
This holiday season, I sincerely extend my best wishes of good feelings and good health to all.