Creating a Joyful Holiday When You’re Facing Challenges

Beautiful big family sitting at the table celebrating winter holidays together at home.


The holidays can create a mix of emotions. While for many of us, the holidays are an exciting, happy time, full of visions of family get-togethers, gift exchanges and reliving memories, others face spending the holidays alone or without certain loved ones who may have passed or who aren’t able to attend the festivities.

Seniors are more likely than younger people to have experienced such a loss and why, for many, the holidays can be a time of sadness and even depression. Additionally, poor health or chronic pain, much more prevalent in the elderly, can dampen holiday spirits. Seeing others taking part in traditions they’re no longer able to participate in can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Here are some tips to help you or a loved one have a happy holiday, even in the midst of the challenges of aging.

Create new traditions

Recognize that this holiday doesn’t have to be like ones in the past. Honor those traditions you can and be open to creating new ones. For example, if you can’t be with your loved ones in person, find new ways to celebrate together, such as Skyping, sending videos and emailing. If you can’t manage decorating the house by yourself, bring out a few ornaments or holiday mementos and create a centerpiece for your dining room table. By adjusting your attitude, you can still find ways to celebrate the season.

Be open and honest with those you love

If you’ve recently lost a spouse or other loved one, recognize that feelings of sadness and grief are normal and appropriate. Don’t force yourself to be happy simply because you think it’s expected. If someone asks how you’re doing, be honest. You obviously don’t want to dampen the spirits of others, but by saying something like “I love the holidays, but this one’s going to be hard without Peter around” will let people know you understand their excitement and why you may not be sharing those feelings this year.

Connect with others

If you’re feeling isolated and lonely, seek out friends and family. If they aren’t available, find out what community, religious or other social events are happening where you live. Volunteering is an excellent way to meet new people and lift your spirits, and opportunities are plentiful around the holidays – consider going to a senior living community and talking with the people there. Connecting with others is one of the best ways to combat depression and loneliness.


Volunteering for a cause you believe in not only introduces you to new people, it can provide you with a sense of purpose. If you’re not sure how to start, visit and look for opportunities in your area. Or find a local senior living community and offer your services, which could as simple as spending time with another human being.

Treat yourself with kindness

Use the holidays as an excuse to do something you’ve always wanted to do, like a “spa day” or seeing a new destination. Being in a new place can provide one with a new outlook on life without the constant reminders of how things used to be. Additionally, don’t abandon your wellness routines, such as exercising, eating well and getting a good night’s sleep. Maintaining your healthy habits will help stave off depression.

How to help someone you love

If you know of a loved one who is depressed, the best thing you can do is to be available for them – as a sympathetic ear, to help with daily tasks that may seem overwhelming, to take them to medical appointments or to an event they’ll enjoy. Get educated on their specific diagnosis or help them seek treatment. Just knowing that they have someone to lean on can help ease their depression and serve as a springboard for healing.

By making some adjustments and seeking the company of others, the holidays can still be a time of renewal and joy.

Categories: Caregiving, Senior Health