What to Know About Holiday Depression in the Elderly

Those so-called “holiday blues” are a very real thing. Find out real steps you can take to mitigate senior depression around the holidays.

dad and son spending time together on the couch during the holidays

Senior depression can get severe during the holiday season. While normally a time of holiday cheer, social isolation, or other risk factors can cause the “holiday blues.” Fortunately, there are many ways to manage holiday depression in the elderly. 

Read on for tips on dealing with depression and the holidays for seniors. 

Seasons And Senior Depression

Depression around the holidays is more than just “holiday blues.” It’s also not a natural part of aging, although that is what many older adults assume.  

Holiday depression can be a form of seasonal or situational depression. While seasonal affective disorder (SAD) often gets all the attention during winter months, seasonal sadness can also be a signal of a larger root problem. Conditions such as clinical depression or major depressive disorder may also be to blame. 

Seasonal Depression Risk Factors

Younger people and older people can both deal with seasonal depression. However, an older person may have more risk factors, such as: 

  • Alcoholism or addiction 
  • Genetic predisposition 
  • Inability to (or lack of) exercise 
  • Other medication conditions (i.e. cancer, dementia, diabetes, or stroke)
  • Physical limitations 
  • Sleep disorders 
  • Social isolation 
  • Stress or caregiver stress 

If you’ve ever experienced depression, you know it can affect your quality of life. Luckily, there are several options for mental health treatment. 

How To Deal With Holiday Depression

While the holidays feel like the most wonderful time of year for some people, seasonal festivities can be overwhelming for others. 

Here are some helpful ways to deal with depression around the holidays. 

Recognize the Signs of Depression

The first step on the road to treatment is to see the signs and signals of depression. Some symptoms of holiday depression can include: 

  • Becoming tearful or weepy 
  • Being anti-social or wanting to be alone all the time 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Fatigue or lethargy 
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless 
  • Losing interest in favorite activities or events (i.e. hobbies)
  • Mood changes (i.e. anxiety, irritability) 
  • Moving more slowly 
  • Neglect of personal hygiene 
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts 
  • Trouble with concentration, memory, or decision-making

Accept Help from Family and Friends

Friends and family can not only help you recognize the warning signs, but they can also help you seek treatment. Sticking to a treatment plan often requires support from your social circle. 

Surrounding yourself with loved ones can also help you stay involved in holiday activities without being too overwhelmed by the festivities. For example, going to a holiday party with a friend or family member who knows what you can handle can help you enjoy the holidays without overdoing it. 

Ask a Health Care Professional for Tips 

There are many types of treatment for depression, and a healthcare professional can help you choose the best option for you. Treatments available to you may include: 

  • Bright light therapy (i.e. a light box) 
  • Medications or supplements (i.e. antidepressants, vitamin D) 
  • Psychotherapy (i.e. cognitive-behavioral therapy [CBT]) 

Don’t Give Into Obligations 

Unless you find volunteering or gift-giving truly enjoyable, don’t feel obligated to participate in all the seasonal activities. Engage in activities that bring you joy, such as hand-making and mailing Christmas cards. Homemade gifts can be inexpensive and meaningful for your friends and family to receive. 

If you’re missing someone who is gone around the holidays, you can carry on traditions that honor them if you’d like. Alternatively, you can try a new practice, such as lighting a memorial candle or attending a church service. 

Emphasize Eating Well and Exercise

Eating well and exercising regularly have been linked to reducing the risk of disability and depression. Some simple actions you can take this season to avoid holiday depression include: 

  • Eat five fruits or vegetables each day 
  • Limit alcohol 
  • Lower salt and sugar intake
  • Participate in exercise you enjoy (i.e. short walk to look at Christmas lights) 
  • Start a mindfulness or yoga practice 

In Summary On Seasonal Depression

The holidays can be a tough time for seniors. Fortunately, seasonal depression has many treatment options that can make the “most wonderful time of the year” feel truly enjoyable.

Family, friends, and health professionals can help you find the right fit when it comes to treatment. 


Depression and Older Adults. National Institute on Aging. Published July 2021. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/depression-and-older-adults#risk

Help Seniors Battle Holiday Blues. Visiting Angels. https://www.visitingangels.com/knowledge-center/senior-health-and-well-being/help-seniors-battle-holiday-blues/15. 

How to Recognize Seasonal Depression in a Senior. Five Star Senior Living. Published March 2020. https://www.fivestarseniorliving.com/blog/how-to-recognize-seasonal-depression-in-a-senior

Poklemba V. Holiday Depression: Strategies for Overcoming Seasonal Stress. Aging Care. Published December 2021. https://www.agingcare.com/articles/dealing-with-holiday-depression-108018.htm

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