CPNC Home Care Blog

Stress And Depression During The Holidays

December 1st, 2019

As the years roll by, some of us are guilty of assuming an Ebenezer Scrooge persona, exclaiming “Bah humbug” at the merest mention of the holidays (though we may not go as far as Scrooge, and sentence someone to being “boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”)

The problem comes down to this: we think we’re supposed to be exceptionally happy this time of year, but the reality of aging and mounting loneliness can cause us to become sad or depressed. And older adults and caregivers are especially susceptible to the holiday blues.

It’s true that the holidays may not be the same as when we were young, but there can still be plenty of reasons to celebrate. One of the most important things to remember is that it’s okay to enjoy the holidays as they are in the “here and now.” Certainly, old memories will always hold a special place in your heart, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be enough room to add new ones.

Understanding what exactly is triggering your gloomy feelings during the winter season is key to helping you find ways to cope and feel better.


Pressure from family and friends to continue holiday celebrations the same way they have been done in the past can be a prime stress contributor. Nothing can ruin a holiday faster than having too much on your plate, especially for caregivers, who are already busier than the average person. Adding decorations, holiday meals, and shopping to the mix is enough to make anyone say “Bah, humbug.”

Here are a few suggestions for preventing yourself from feeling overwhelmed and cranky:

  • Keep focused on what you and your loved one need instead of what others expect of you.
  • Accept help when others offer it and ask for help when you need it.
  • Prioritize and downsize holiday tasks. For example, it’s okay to skip the outdoor lights for one year, and only put up lights and decorations inside the house.
  • Turn any gatherings into a potluck meal, asking all guests to bring a dish to share.
  • Make lists. It often helps to see what exactly needs to be done, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment when you cross off completed tasks.


Money matters are another notorious source of stress during the holidays, especially among seniors with fixed budgets. When spending increases – which it always does, for things like gifts, holiday meals and heating – take a moment to consider these methods for coping with financial worries:

  • Set a budget.  Sure, it can be fun to say “charge” and buy everything on your holiday shopping list, but dealing with the constraints of a budget is far better than realizing after the holidays that you spent far more than you could afford.
  • Borrowing on the adage “it’s the thought that counts,” remind your loved ones that less expensive gifts can be just as enjoyable and useful as more expensive ones.
  • Do it yourself! Make baked goods or create handcrafted gifts for family and friends.
  • Instead of buying gifts for everyone, suggest a limited “gift exchange,” with family members drawing one or two names for gifts.
  • Don’t be too last-minute with mailing cards or buying presents. Take care of a few items each day to complete tasks with minimal stress and expense.


One of the biggest challenges for families is losing a loved one. Whether the loss is recent or it occurred a decade ago, this time of year often highlights absences and brings intense feelings of grief, loneliness and emptiness. Sadly, you may even feel guilty if you find yourself having a good time.

Even innocent gestures, such as receiving a holiday card addressed to your late loved one, may spur feelings of sorrow. However it can also be upsetting when family and friends go out of their way to not mention your loved one’s name.

It’s important to remind yourself that these feelings are all normal, and that by talking about how you feel with a loved one you can find it easier to get through these tough times. Even better, by paying special tribute to your loved one during the holidays you can ease some of your pain. Consider the following ways to honor someone you’ve lost:

  • Place the person’s picture in a place of prominence at home.
  • Light a memorial candle.
  • Make a photo album of previous holidays together to focus on positive memories.
  • Set aside a time so that everyone who wants to can share a memory or a funny story about the deceased.
  • Make a toast to your loved one.
  • Go to church or synagogue.
  • Volunteer to help those in need.


A word to the wise: don’t wait for depression to happen to act on it. While not being too hard on yourself is a good place to start, there are various other approaches that can help prevent and minimize the symptoms of depression. Here a few preemptive ways to help stave off the holiday blues:

  • Stick to a regular schedule and build in breaks. Adequate rest is crucial, especially during the hectic holiday season.
  • Don’t feel guilty for picking and choosing which holiday gatherings you and your loved one can attend.
  • Get regular exercise – even if it’s only twenty minutes each day.
  • Avoid overeating at every meal. Save indulging for special meals, like the big family dinner or the pot luck at work.
  • Be mindful of the amount of alcohol you drink

Always remember that the real meaning of the holidays is sort of wrapped up the whole Ebenezer Scrooge “A Christmas Carol” experience: be thankful for what you had in the past, what you have in the present, and also what the future will bring. If you remain honest with yourself and maintain realistic expectations, you can skip the “Bah humbugs” and instead go with Tiny Tim’s famous refrain: “God bless us, everyone!”

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