Isn’t that what one song claims Christmas to be? It is not surprising to see how many clients out there do not find this to be the most wonderful time of the year, and in fact, even abhor the holidays. When dealing with older adults, many are “celebrating” these holidays grieving: loved ones who have passed, adult children who are estranged or are spending time with their in-laws, and grandchildren/great grandchildren that only see them when they don’t have their own 10 million activities going on. Conversely, there are those that feel like they have to pull off some grand soiree for their family with limited help, or have to decide between going to several different family members’ homes—trying not to offend the ones whose homes they didn’t go to. The grief and loss, decision making responsibilities, and pressure to perform as a host are more than enough to exacerbate immobilizing depression and anxiety.
One of the biggest topics of discussion for the past week or so with our patients is the concept of living in the gray area. What I mean is, allowing day to day decisions to be fluid…allowing yourself the ability to change your mind, and the ability to “back out” of any rigid expectations. For example, it’s okay if someone suggests going out to dinner at the holidays, versus trying to put together a family meal at your house—it’s also okay to spend quiet time with just you and a friend/spouse/fill in the blank/ versus going and seeing your entire family. There are many other “out of the box” suggestions that patients can come up with on their own—rewriting old traditions. We have been stressing with patients the importance of knowing what boundaries need to be set, setting those boundaries, and not allowing others to pressure you into doing something that may be depleting for you. Patients also get reminded that it’s okay to do this any day of the year, not just during the holidays. Self-preservation is the key every day for someone with depression and/or anxiety—but especially at the holidays. For those people, this can in fact be the most horrible time of the year.
Summer Jeirles is a counselor with a background in residential addictions treatment. She currently practices in Virginia, with adults 55 and over.