The holiday season and winter months can be some of the toughest times of the year for seasonal depression and feelings of loneliness. And that’s especially true for seniors.
Just as important as it is to keep an eye on the physical health of older adults, it’s vital to make sure they stay mentally healthy.
“As we grow older, we come across a lot of life changes and those can impact our mood and outlook,” Bethesda Bereavement Assistant Kelly Haner explained. “Living alone due to the loss of a spouse, having family members living far distances from us, difficulty with mobility, the loss of the ability to drive, and illness are just some of the reasons that we may begin to experience social isolation, feelings of loneliness, and seasonal depression.”
In the cold, dreary months of winter, it is easy to find ourselves in a slump.
“We feel a lot less like ourselves and more like Eeyore, the gloomy, grey donkey in Winnie-the-Pooh,” Haner said. “Let’s start out by saying this is normal. Most people experience some kind of emotional downturn after the holidays.”
Understanding the Signs of Seasonal Depression
The key to mental health, says Haner, is not allowing seniors to get into a rut. Watch out for the warning signs of depression – and then act before the depression takes hold.
Signs of Depression
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Persistent fatigue
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Abnormal agitation or irritation
- Abnormal tearfulness/emotional outbursts
- Inability to concentrate
If you notice your loved one battling one or more of these symptoms, then it’s time to talk to their doctor.
Don’t Give Up Hope
There are plenty of ways to help combat the winter blues and feelings of loneliness that seniors may experience. Being involved in the community, discussing feelings with family and friends, and taking time for hobbies are just a few tactics.
Keeping busy and finding ways to socialize are important tools to use in the battle against loneliness and seasonal depression.
Suggestions for Avoiding Depression:
- Make new friends. Sometimes just being around people is enough to make us feel better. Research shows that people with strong social networks are more resilient to depression. Consider joining a book club, peer or companion program, church group, or take a new class.
- Give back. Volunteering can help give a sense of purpose. The range of volunteer opportunities is almost endless. Thinking about your hobbies and interest is a good starting point in determining where to donate your time. The United Way, food pantries, homeless shelters, local schools, libraries, and museums or community centers are great places to consider.
- Adopt a pet. Pet ownership can help seniors lead a happier and more social life, plus caring for a pet can also give a sense of purpose.
- Schedule time for family and friends. Make regular calls to family if they are living out of town, and schedule a weekly or monthly visit with family members if they are nearby. Have coffee with neighbors or church members. Make new friends at social events through church, AARP, or community centers.
- Get active! Regular exercise is very effective for managing depression. Increasing your energy and activity levels can help boost your mood. Go for a daily walk; just make sure to dress appropriately in the winter! Join an exercise class at the local gym or senior center, or walk around the mall, grocery store, or library.
- Find time for the things you like. Allocating time for self-care can help you avoid stress and keep your spirits lifted. Do what feels good to you—take a bubble bath, read a good book, knit, or spend time in your garden. A few other ideas include taking yourself out to eat, having a movie night, or even just listening to uplifting music throughout your day.
Having things to do and to look forward to is key to staying mentally healthy and happy, according to Haner. Like everyone else, it’s important for seniors to have a sense of purpose in their life as well as things that they are passionate and enthusiastic about doing.
Find the Help That You Need
Seniors shouldn’t feel as if they have to battle loneliness and depression on their own. If the above suggestions don’t do the job, the Bethesda Hospice Care Bereavement Team is always there to help. Bethesda currently offers ongoing grief support groups that are open to anyone in need of support. For more information, contact Bethesda Hospice Care or call 314-373-7025.