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When Holidays are not Happy

Peggy Fossen DNP, RN, CNE

It is that time of year again. The holiday season, time for cheer, parties, gift giving, and feelings of joy. But what happens when the holidays are not so happy or full of good tidings? While the holidays can be a joy filled time for many, for others it can be a stressful and challenging time.

This may be the case for many older adults, and unfortunately it is not uncommon. Feelings of loneliness and sadness during the holiday season is experienced by many older adults.  A recent study revealed that 31-43% of the participants admitted to feeling lonely during the holidays.  

What exactly is it about this time of year that brings on this Holiday Loneliness?


As we grow older, things change. We experience change in relationships, friendships, finances, physical and mental health, and living arrangements. Many older adults are experiencing the first holiday after losing a loved one, or they have lost a number of loved ones over the years. Perhaps other family members, children, or grandchildren live a far distance away and cannot travel for the holidays. Some may just feel tired and be experiencing holiday fatigue. Regardless the reason the feelings of loneliness, sadness, and depression during the holidays should not be ignored. Resources, such as Connect2Affect, are available to assist in acknowledging these feelings, finding resources, and helping older adults stay connected during the holidays.

Lumps of Coal

During the holidays negative feelings can bring on significant health risks. These can be the real lumps of coal that could have harmful effects on health. These include the following.

  • Increased risk of heart disease.
  • Increased risk of stroke.
  • Increased risk of dementia.
  • Increased risk of inflammation.
  • Higher risk for hypertension.
  • Higher risk for depression.
  • Higher risk for anxiety.

The evidence supports the importance of participating in the holidays and having the holiday spirit. But that may be easier said than done. How can we get those festive feelings again, and help others in getting in the holiday spirit?

Sharing the Holidays

When we think of the holidays, one of the first thoughts we have are of family and friends. We remember the good times, laughter, good food, and special people we shared them with. We reminisce.  Reminiscing and sharing memories, especially holiday memories and traditions, can have many positive effects including:

  • Reduces depression.
  • Improves communication skills.
  • Improves self-esteem.
  • Decreases stress.
  • Reduces negative emotions.

In addition to these positive outcomes it is a wonderful way to share and preserve family traditions, especially those related to the holidays. Reminiscing is also a great way to connect to others and to improve communication skills.

Connecting and Communicating

Communication during the holidays is a vital part of combating the holiday blues. If unable to do so in person older adults can explore other methods such as, video chat on Skype, FaceTime or Zoom. And, if you happen to know someone who would like to do this, but does not know how, what a wonderful holiday gift it would be to help them!

Being involved in community and volunteering activities is another great way to connect. Volunteer at food and coat drives, volunteer to serve holiday meals or volunteer at a local senior center. Most communities have activities and events providing opportunities to connect, volunteer, and participate in holiday festivities. And in return you will receive the warmth and joy that holiday giving brings. Some other activities to participate in could be. 

  • Caroling.
  • Baking cookies.
  • Listening to Christmas music.
  • Viewing Christmas lights.
  • Watching holiday movies.
  • Visiting someone unable to leave their home.
  • Help someone write Christmas cards or letters.
  • Send Christmas cards.
  • Visit a place of worship.
  • Volunteering and giving back

The holidays are filled with traditions, festivities, and cheer. We should all stop and think of something we can do to ensure that everyone, older and younger, is given the chance to experience these wonderful holiday feelings again.

Let’s make the holidays happy for all!!



Abbey Delray South. Understanding Why Holidays Can Be Difficult for Older Adults.

AARP Foundation. Connect 2 Tools to Overcome Social Isolation.

Brown, L. (2020). The Importance of Reminiscing. SDSU.

Caring Places. Why Are the Holidays Important For Seniors?

Carr, D. (2019). Why the holidays are the loneliest time for seniors.

Elder Care Alliance (2021).  Benefits of Reminiscence Therapy for the Aging.

Kerman, S. (2017). The Holiday Season: Joy, Love & Loneliness. AARP.

US Surgeon General Surgeon (2023). Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.

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