Handling the Holidays as a Senior: Traditions, Family and More

Holidays are a source of wonderful memories for most people, but they can also be challenging for seniors. Some seniors experience the “holiday blues.” This happens where all of the pressure holidays bring can actually also bring sadness and depression. So how can you handle changing family dynamics, new and old traditions, and stressors of the holidays as a senior? Read on to learn more.

The “Holiday Blues” and Holiday Stress

Think about our common holiday songs playing on every radio station and throughout every store: have a holly jolly Christmas, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, all is bright. These songs, advertisements, movies, stores, and social media all portray the holiday seasons as being full of joy, laughter and light. But what happens if you just aren’t feeling happy, despite the holidays quickly approaching? 

If you’re feeling less than merry this holiday season, you aren’t alone. All of the pressure on being happy during the holidays can actually backfire. Since you aren’t feeling what all these outside influences are telling you to feel, you might feel like something is wrong with you. You may also notice portrayals of a large circle of close-knit family and friends, and feel isolated and alone if you aren’t fortunate enough to have loved ones nearby. It might feel like you’re actually being left out of all this holiday cheer. Financial pressures can also skyrocket, thanks to buying gifts, travel expenses, and event costs. If you have any kind of mental illness, you’re even more at risk. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of people with an existing mental illness report that the holidays make their condition worse (1).

Even if the holidays don’t have you feeling blue, they might have you feeling extra stressed. It can be a very busy time of year for some people, and a very lonely time for others. You might be juggling multiple gatherings, differing religious beliefs, and challenging family dynamics. Or, you might be struggling with family and friends being far away, and not being able to carry out your usual holiday traditions. 

All of this can add up to a potential minefield for senior citizens. Fortunately, we have some tips on handling the holidays as a senior that may help.

Handling the Holidays as a Senior: Traditions New & Old

Traditions are one of the most common ways we mark the importance of winter holidays, no matter your religious beliefs. For example, many people have holiday dinners with family members, give gifts, light candles on a menorah, hang stockings over the fireplace, cut down a Christmas tree, go caroling, etc. However, for many seniors these traditions become difficult to keep. Perhaps you’re no longer wanting to drive up a snowy mountain and cut down a tree, or wander around in winter cold and darkness singing. 

Just because your traditions aren’t making sense anymore doesn’t mean you have to give them up. You can honor your old traditions, and maybe begin some new ones that work better in your current stage of life. If you no longer have children at home, some traditions aren’t as enjoyable. That’s okay! Feel free to remember them fondly, and move forward. Instead of cutting a tree, perhaps your new tradition is assembling an artificial tree, or fluffing and decorating your artificial mini tree. If your family and friends aren’t nearby and winter travel isn’t an appealing option, you could start a low-key holiday dinner with friends and neighbors. Many people now celebrate “Friendsgiving” rather than Thanksgiving, and you could do something similar for any winter holiday. Try giving gifts within your senior living community. It’s okay to try new things and find new ways to celebrate your favorite winter holidays.

Handling the Holidays as a Senior: Family Dynamics

Family dynamics are another common stressor when it comes to handling the holidays as a senior. If you have family nearby, it can get challenging to find a time when everyone can come together. Differing diets, preferences, and religious beliefs can add tension to family gatherings. On the other hand, not having family nearby can also be stressful, not to mention lonely.

If you’re dealing with stress due to new or changing family dynamics, consider your role in the situation. Are you hosting the meal? If so, and it’s important to you that all family members attend, consider including items that meet any dietary needs, and reducing, altering, or eliminating religious traditions that others aren’t comfortable with. Alternatively, you can let everyone know what to expect at your holiday gathering, and allow them to choose whether or not they would like to attend. These are essentially your only two options for a low-stress holiday family gathering: either be willing to accommodate, or let go of relationships that no longer serve you. As a senior, you get to choose how you spend your time and with whom you will spend it.

If you aren’t hosting a meal, and are invited to family gatherings, it’s up to you whether or not to attend. You aren’t obligated to visit family members who aren’t respectful of you and your beliefs. If you do decide to attend, try taking a laid-back approach and just trying to appreciate what you like about your family or friends. Large holiday gatherings are not a good time to discuss politics or religious beliefs. This can help your holiday gatherings go more smoothly and with less dramatics. 

Happy Holidays with Stellar Living

The holidays can be a sad or stressful time for many seniors. Stellar Living hopes these tips on handling the holidays as a senior help you this holiday season. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and ready for a change, consider senior living! You can attend a low-stakes holiday dinner with your fellow seniors, participate in holiday-themed events, and experience your least stressful holiday ever.