Managing Holiday Stress: 10 Ways Older Adults Can Cope

Author: Spencer Smith

As the spirit of the season falls upon us, thoughts of twinkling lights, holiday jingles, freshly baked gingerbread cookies and visits to Jolly Old St. Nicholas dance through our heads. With all of the excitement the holidays bring, it’s easy to get caught up in all of the hustle and bustle — hours spent searching for the perfect gift, creating a magnificent feast, setting the decorative backdrop for memories that will last a lifetime or hosting an unforgettable gathering that guests will rave about throughout all of 2023.

Sometimes, the expectations we set for the end of the year festivities are sky high. As much as we hope for a season filled with tidings of comfort and joy, it’s also important to recognize the heightened feelings of stress, loneliness, depression and overwhelmingness that many people, especially older adults, face during the holidays.

Here, we reveal 10 ways to help older adults cope with the season and ensure that everyone enjoys the most wonderful time of the year.

1. Avoid Holiday Burnout:

Be mindful of your limits. Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, buying presents or bouncing between various holiday parties, you don’t have to do it all. Recognize that you don’t need to say “yes” to everything or take on as many tasks as you have done in the past. No matter how much people appreciate and enjoy what you do for them, nothing is more important than your mental and physical health, especially during the holidays.

2. Make Room for Grief:

The holidays often remind us of those who are no longer with us, bringing on feelings of sadness and grief. Don’t bury those feelings. Instead, celebrate loved ones who are no longer with you by reminiscing with friends and family or sharing a scrapbook filled with photographs of happy memories.

3. Set a Budget:

Standing in the middle of the department store with endless possibilities, it’s easy to get carried away trying to find the perfect gifts. Before you venture out, set a budget for each person on your list to help alleviate financial pressures and prevent overspending. Do you have a tight budget? Consider thoughtful alternatives, such as homemade gifts (a batch of colorfully decorated sugar cookies, baked pie, pair of knit socks, photo collage, ornament, trophy bottle topper or recipe box) or experience (trip to a free museum, zoo, historic site or local festival).

4. Maintain Healthy Habits:

As tempting as all of the holiday ham and sweet treats smell, overeating — especially foods that are high in sugar and lack nutrients — leads to higher stress levels and fatigue. Remember, smoothies and soups are easy ways to pack your busy holiday schedule with healthy meals that leave you feeling better mentally and physically. Don’t forget to get enough sleep and make time for a daily dose of exercise. Go for a brisk half-hour walk or stretch your muscles with a 20-minute yoga session.

5. Practice Gratitude:

Research shows that practicing gratuity reduces stress, improves sleep and enhances feelings of happiness. Each morning, write down at least one thing for which you’re grateful. Looking for more ways to boost your mood? Also jot down some positive quotes and personal affirmations that you can recite to yourself when times get tough.

6. Laugh It Off:

There’s a reason so many holiday movies are comedies — they’re simply good for us! Laughing not only stimulates circulation and muscle relaxation, it also reduces stress, lowers your blood pressure and stimulates your heart and lungs. Sensing some family tension during a holiday get together? Suggest settling down with a few blankets in a comfy, cozy space and connecting with a Christmas classic.

7. Take a Break:

Even under the best circumstances, the holidays can still get overwhelming. Don’t forget to take some time out for yourself. Step outside and take a few deep breaths of fresh air, spend some quiet time alone focusing your mind on the present or engage in an activity that brings you joy.

8. Pay It Forward:

Although showing kindness to others is a selfless act, it’s a mutually beneficial experience. Consider volunteering to help meet new friends, connect with the community, reduce feelings of loneliness, learn a new skill, increase your physical activity and more.

9. Stay Connected:

As the busyness of the season settles down, those who live alone, especially older adults, may experience a heightened sense of sadness and isolation. Make increasing your interactions with others a priority by planning outings with friends, participating in community events or catching up with loved ones via phone calls or video chats on your laptop, tablet or smartphone.

10. Ask for Help:

Stress, depression, anxiety and loneliness can severely impact your mental health and well-being long after the holidays are over. These feelings should not be underestimated or brushed aside. If you are having trouble coping with negative emotions or experiencing these feelings on a persistent basis (or in association with physical side effects) ask for help from your doctor or other health care professional.

This year, give yourself the gift of a positive holiday experience by remembering to focus on your mental and physical health and well-being. And don’t forget, you don’t need to do everything all by yourself. From planning meals and scheduling activities to organizing transportation, setting up video chats and so much more, your Upside Manager is available to help you enjoy a stress-free season.

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