Every time we enter a retail establishment, turn on the TV, or get a whiff of the new pumpkin spiced mouthwash, we know the holiday blitz has arrived. This season of celebrations with fantasy-perfect family gatherings, delicious food and later, sparkling lights and pine scented overload, is not the easiest time for everyone. Amid Susan learning to believe, and Clarence getting his wings, many among us struggle with feeling alone and depressed during the holidays. This is true for people of all ages, but those of us with a few decades behind us can feel it even more. The longing for loved ones with whom we once shared holidays -- be they parents, grandparents, or a spouse, who have passed away; or family members and friends who live great distances from us, often becomes especially painful around this time of year. SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder-also called “winter depression” can compound our unhappy feelings, and do a double-whammy on our ability to enjoy the season, so much that it is now a recognized disorder among older adults. Financial issues can also contribute to feelings of depression during the season of More is Better and Greed is Good.
So, how do we lift our sagging hearts from lower than our knees and feel as light as a snowflake and as happy as a four year-old? One way is to lift our skirts, or boots, if you’re a man, and go dancing. I wrote many words earlier this year about the benefits of dancing, and so have a look at Shake Your Booty or The Rhythm of the Drums, and find a place this season to take a partner, or join a group, and dance the night away. The research shows what relationships do for our health is so positive, and letting go and following the rhythm of the beat can give us a well-needed release of serotonin-- the feel-good hormone, boost our immune systems, and bring on restorative sleep. Sounds like a winning combo to me. Many studies prove that our resistance to getting cancer, heart disease, and even dementia, as well as a bushel basket of other chronic diseases is greatly enhanced when we are connected to people in social, and even better in intimate ;-) situations. In fact, we add nine years to our life expectancy by hanging with others.
The data is in and the news is good: Those who volunteer, mentor, or simply lend a compassionate ear are healthier, experience higher self-esteems, and report feeling happier about their lives and life in general. I discussed above joining in a Bogie Nights Fest, or a Square Dancing Marathon, and here are some other ways to connect this season:
1.Check out holiday events in your area. Look online or in the newspaper for a list of events for all ages; pick a few and go! You will either have a good time, or a good story to tell. Additionally, go to the website, Meetup.com for information about special interest groups or social groups for older adults in your area.
2.Sign up to volunteer. This is the season of giving, so up the gratitude quotient in your own life, and give some back to those in need. You will feel the joy of the season and reap the health benefits that come from serving others. An added bonus--you're also more likely to meet like-minded people looking to expand their own social networks!
3.Mentor a child, or spend time with children. The International Council on Active Aging reported that people over 55 who volunteered to assist school children or tutor not only improved cognitive function, but also burned twice as many calories as non-volunteers. (Isn’t that great news!) Being with children requires that we become more active and focused. Kids also remind us to believe again, as we did in our own childhoods, in fairies and Santa Claus, and that all things are possible. Then at the end of the day, they go home and you go home, to different houses. What could be better?
Even in this wild world we are living in, we can experience much happiness and joy this season, and all year long, if we chose to embrace it. We can overcome our feeling of loneliness and depression by opening the door and stepping outside, breathing in the crisp air, and choosing to extend our hand to a fellow human who could be lonely, as well. Nothing I know warms up cold fingers faster.
Until next time…Be Vibrant!