Ask Joan: Simple ways to manage holiday blues
December 11, 2023

Q. I do love the holiday season, but since my wife passed away a few years ago, I sometimes struggle and feel a bit depressed. A friend of mine called it the “holiday blues”, but it seems wrong to feel sad when everything is supposed to be joyful. Do you have any advice?

A. It’s a busy time of year, filled with gatherings with loved ones, special holiday events and the expectation to feel festive. But not everyone feels this way all the time, and it can be overwhelming.

Joan Hatem-Roy, CEO of AgeSpan

Some people may find themselves dealing with feelings of loss or sadness. They think about the past, draw comparisons to the present, and feel a sense of dissatisfaction as they miss people that are no longer part of their lives. These feelings are normal and many of us have them from time to time.

Navigating your own feelings with compassion and self-care is essential during the holiday season. The absence of loved ones can intensify feelings of loss and sorrow, turning seasonal events into poignant reminders.

If you find yourself sad or feeling depressed, consider the following suggestions from AARP:

Only do what feels right: Choose activities and traditions based on what feels manageable and set realistic expectations. Be gentle with yourself and others.

Accept your feelings: Embrace the unique path of grief, acknowledging both the ups and downs. Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions without judgment.

Get support: Communicate with loved ones about your emotional needs and seek professional help if sinking into depression or complicated grief. Virtual support groups and online communities can offer additional assistance.

Plan activities: Anticipate and plan comforting activities to look forward to, potentially creating new traditions or finding solace in familiar ones.

Give: Channel grief into positive actions, such as donating to a cause in your loved one’s name or volunteering. Creating good in the world can provide relief.

Acknowledge and honor: Participate in holiday rituals in memory of the deceased, such as lighting candles, dedicating prayers, or incorporating their photo into decorations.

Do something different: Embrace change and plan novel activities to create new memories, recognizing that holidays may evolve over time.

Skip it: If participation feels overwhelming, communicate your decision to opt out and plan comforting alternatives, with regular check-ins from supportive friends or family.

Remember, recognizing the distinction between ordinary sadness and clinical depression becomes crucial when navigating this challenging emotional terrain. If you find that your mood is worsening, or your feelings of sadness last longer that two weeks, it may be time to check in with your health care provider. You are not alone. Many people have difficulties navigating this time of year and find that reaching out to friends or family can help.  You may even find unexpected smiles when reminiscing about holiday memories with those you hold dear.

Are you caring for an older adult or need help locating healthy aging resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at for more information. You can also call us at 800-892-0890 or email Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of AgeSpan.  

First published in the Eagle-Tribune.

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