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By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues
It is a visible sign of the approach of Christmas. Houses are decorated with colorful Christmas lights with wreaths with red ribbons hung on the front doors of homes throughout the community. But planned gatherings next weekend with family and friends may not bring the joyful feelings and closeness you might expect, rather. isolation and loneliness.
Increased demands of family obligations during the upcoming holidays, from last minute shopping trips for gifts, baking and cooking, cleaning, to hosting parties, getting your Christmas cards in the mail, and even unrealistic expectations can oftentimes produce extra stresses, feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression.
During her 43-year career as a licensed practicing psychologist in Los Angeles and at State College, Pennsylvania, Elaine Rodino, Ph.D., a fellow and former president of the American of the American Psychological Association’s division of psychologists in independent practice, has had a longstanding interest in the holiday blues and has helped many of her patients cope with this issue over the years.
No formal condition but it’s a “real” condition
During an interview on Speaking of Psychology, the flagship podcast of the American Psychological Association (APA), Psychologist Dr. Elaine Rodino noted that there’s no formal diagnosis of holiday blues, but it is a real condition. “It’s a condition that usually appears around the holidays and then fades away sometime in January,” she says.
According to Rodino, feelings can vary. To some people it’s a feeling of malaise, tiredness and they just can’t get to things. For others it’s the “traditional bah-humbug attitude,” she said, noting that “they hate the holidays and just can’t wait until they are over.”
In counseling sessions during holidays, Rodino says conversations always come up as to how the patient will “get through the holidays, what they’re doing, what the stresses are, and how they’re going to deal with getting together with the family.”
Rodino, who has been quoted on the topic over the years by the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Boston Globe, WebMD, and many magazines, offers these tips to cope with the stresses and anxiety triggered by the upcoming holidays.
Be conscious of your spending especially this year with soaring inflation and high interest rates. “Especially large families where each person usually gives to every other person there can be a plan to have a grab-bag of names and buy only for the person whose name you pick out of the bag. I have heard of this plan working well in a number of families and groups,” says Rodino.
Rodino suggests that if you know of a person who had a loss this year or has recently become single, it’s good to invite them to join you and your family for any holiday events or dinners. “People who are alone can take the initiative to create a gathering of others and have a potluck party. This can be planned for Christmas or New Year’s, too,” she says.
“COVID is not totally gone and this year the flu and RSV are creating illnesses and hospitals are near capacity in many places. Continue to take precautions,” adds Rodino. “I suggest that people get their immunizations for COVID and flu. It may not prevent you from getting sick, but it will most likely be a milder case,” she notes.
“Don’t be intimidated if you want to wear a mask. Just because you may feel like the only person wearing a mask, if that’s what you feel is safe, wear that mask,” recommends Rodino. “I’ve known people who say they knew they should have kept their mask on, but no one else was wearing one,” she says.
Don’t talk politics if everyone’s not on the same political page
Rodino warns that in family gatherings unless everyone is on the same page, politically, try not to bring up politics or issues that are politically split. “The slightest mention of one of these topics could seem okay at first, but then can slowly escalate to high levels of debate and arguments,” she says.
It is important to be very aware that some people may be recently sober, says Rodino. “If someone declines a drink of eggnog, etc. do not insist. Likewise, if you are newly sober you may want to party with other sober friends,” she suggests.
“Some people may also have eating disorders and may also be triggered by insistence that they try a certain dessert, or have seconds,” adds Rodino.
Take care of your self-care during this time of year. “Consider taking time for yourself. Take a break from shopping and all things related to the holidays. A walk, a warm bath, a massage, or even just reading a book can do wonders to renew your energy,” she notes.
Become aware of your own expectations and that of others as to what you “should” be doing for the holidays. “Take time to figure out what you really want to do, who you want to spend time with, what you want to buy. You don’t need to follow traditions that no longer have meaning for you. You can start your new ways of celebrating the holidays. That may even include leaving town and going on a vacation,” she says.
Rodino says, “Why not spend some time reviewing your plans for the holidays, and make wise decisions now, so you can really have Happy Holidays.”
To listen to APA’s Blog with Dr. Elaine Rodino speaking about holiday blues, go to https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/holiday-blues.
Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Tacking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly or its sequel, Taking Charge: Vol 2 More Stories on Aging Boldly, both collections of articles of his weekly commentaries.