By SIMONA VALANCIUTE
The “holiday blues” are a too-common experience for more than 8 million older American adults suffering from social isolation — and they can lead to some very real health problems. Studies have shown that prolonged isolation is as detrimental to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and increases the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, anxiety, cognitive decline, and even death. According to Pew Research Center, Americans age 60 and older who live on their own spend more than 10 hours daily alone. Thankfully, there are many ways older adults can combat isolation, overcome the holiday blues, and improve their health in the process.
Why do some people experience the holiday blues?
“Survivor’s guilt” over the passing of a friend or loved one in the previous year (especially if it’s the first holiday after their death), a decrease in energy or mobility that limits activity, living far away from family and friends, the financial pressure of gift-giving, and social media-induced envy or FOMO (fear of missing out) can easily contribute to feelings of loneliness or isolation.
What can be done to beat the holiday blues?
Even if you feel down, you are still in charge of your life. If you’re experiencing the holiday blues:
Be around people and friends, even if you don’t feel like it. Perhaps skip the festive holiday bash, but still make plans with small groups of friends.
Find new ways to keep busy. Book a tour and see your city like a tourist. Go to a theater show or a sporting event.
Learn something new. Sign up for a class in a skill you’ve always wanted to learn.
Keep moving. When you exercise, you release mood-boosting endorphins. Plan a workout with a friend or join a group exercise class.
Avoid social media. These are “highlight” reels of peoples’ lives, not reality.
Volunteer. Give back to your community; you will feel more connected, and have a sense of purpose.
Create new traditions, especially if you’ve lost a loved one. It’s OK to be sad, but don’t feel guilty. Try new things to enrich your life in a way your loved one would have wanted for you.
What can be done to help an older adult who might be suffering?
If you have a parent or older relative who might be feeling the holiday blues, here are some tips for how to support them:
Simplify your holiday plans to focus on the real meaning of the season. Consider cutting back on activities that require expensive outings or focus too much on gifts.
Actively listen to them, even if the discussion is negative. The simple act of just listening attentively shows them that they are not a burden.
Remind them how important they are as a part of your life. Look at family photos, watch home videos and holiday movies, or sing seasonal songs together.
Help them get out and try new things. Check with your loved one’s religious organization, if they have one, to see if they can offer social and/or spiritual support. Also, check if there’s a local chapter of Oasis near you, offering classes and meetups for older adults that can help them feel more energized and mentally stimulated.
At San Diego Oasis, we like to say our classes, activities, and travel opportunities are the prescription for senior isolation. Our central location in Grossmont Center encourages connection and socializing during the holidays and throughout the entire year. If you’re feeling a bit down, take a moment for self-care — to try new things, meet new people, gather with friends, and combat those holiday blues.
— Simona Valanciute is the president and CEO of San Diego Oasis, an award-winning nonprofit organization serving people age 50 and better, who pursue healthy aging through lifelong learning, active lifestyles, and community service. Learn more at sandiegooasis.org.