SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Managing holiday stress

Maureen Wendt

For many, the holidays are a time for families and friends to gather and for joyous celebrations. Even though the holidays are enjoyable, they can be demanding, even when we are not in the midst of a pandemic. For some, the added stress can lead to emotions that sneak up and pull you down when you least expect it. The holidays are not as joyful for some as they are for others.

Maintaining good health throughout stressful times is directly linked to a positive mind set. Improving your mood need not be time consuming or expensive. Try these simple strategies to distract your attention from the hectic pace of life around you and restore the energy you need.

Make sure you are well rested. According to the National Institute on Aging, an estimated 30% of middle-aged Americans don't get enough sleep. Factors that can help you get a good night's sleep are sticking to a regular bedtime, sleeping in a cool and dark room and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine after mid-afternoon.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day. Moderate exercise is an activity that leaves you feeling warm, but still able to talk. And don't forget routine activities like mopping the floor and raking leaves are considered moderate exercise.

Music has the ability to alter your mood. If you want to relax, listen to slow, soothing classical music. To energize yourself, pick something that is faster such as jazz or pop. Or consider making your own music by playing a musical instrument.

Bringing a little creativity into your life can improve your sense of well being. It could be something as simple as trying a new recipe, decorating a wreath, or something else you enjoy.

By making a difference in the lives of others and becoming active, you generate positive feelings in your own life. Volunteering will fill your heart and let goodness shine in your life. Studies show that people who volunteer as little as two hours per week improve their own health. Worries drift away when you focus on others.

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Caregiving responsibilities layered on top of keeping up with holiday traditions can take a toll on dementia families, especially the caregiver. The person with dementia may also feel a sense of loss during the holidays. With some planning and adjusted expectations, your celebrations can be filled with joy and magical moments to cherish forever.

No one, including yourself, should expect you to maintain every holiday tradition or event.

Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage.

Choose holiday activities and traditions that are most important to you.

Host a small family dinner instead of a throwing a big holiday party.

Consider serving a catered or takeout holiday meal. Many grocery stores and restaurants offer meals to go.

Start a new tradition. Have a potluck dinner where family or friends each bring a dish.

And, involve the person in the festivities. There are many manageable activities you can do together, such as: wrap gifts; bake favorite holiday recipes together; set the table (avoid centerpieces with candles and artificial fruits and berries that could be mistaken for edible snacks); prepare simple foods such as appetizers; talk about events to include in a holiday letter; read cards you receive together; look through photo albums or scrapbooks, and reminisce about people in the pictures and past events; watch a favorite holiday movie; sing favorite carols or read Bible passages.

I hope this makes your holidays a little less stressful.

Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit www.daleassociation.com .

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