Seniorlink Blog

Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder During the Holidays

Erika Smith is the Branch Manager of Indianapolis for Caregiver Homes.

I have so many wonderful holiday memories of my mother. She loved to buy fresh Christmas trees for us to decorate together, although I still remember with a special fondness the artificial white tree with the kaleidoscope lights. My father and siblings knew she took great pleasure in finding just the right gift for each one of us. I will always love my Lite Brite and Ms. Piggy Muppet. My brothers loved their Hot Wheels and Rock Em Sock Em Robots. She passed on the joy of baking with an Easy Bake Oven. We look forward to each holiday season because one of her favorite activities was baking home-made holiday cookies, cakes, pies, fudge and the fluffiest yeast rolls that would melt in your mouth.

But now my holiday planning needs to include how my sister and I will coordinate our schedules to make sure that we continue to meet our mother's fall and winter needs. My mom, like many consumers, experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and we need to help her cope through this season and find new ways to participate in the holidays.

The holidays are a happy time for many people, but it is also a time of the year when many of our loved ones struggle emotionally. SAD is a type of depression that tends to occur as the days grow shorter in the fall and winter. When my father passed away and my mother's health declined, I saw her exhibit signs and symptoms of SAD each September as the daylight hours became shorter and the dark hours increased. She has said how closed in and isolated she feels when she cannot go outside because of bad weather or when she does not get a lot of visitors.

My family makes a special effort to help my mother not feel SAD, and maybe our approach can help you and your loved ones this season:

  • We make sure the drapes are open during all daylight hours.
  • We keep lights on in the room she sits in to make it appear brighter.
  • My cousins and extended family make sure they stop by the house, especially from November through January. My brother takes his four weeks of vacation in December to spend with her.
  • Many relatives and friends bring her samples of their homemade holiday treats.
  • We make sure mom has holiday and all-occasion cards to send people to feel connected to people she does not get to see.
  • It is fun to reminisce and look at photo albums. The winter is a great time to find out more about your family history and stories. Put special pictures on the refrigerator or in a central place in the home that make everyone smile.
  • I encourage her to tell me where to put the decorations so she is involved with the planning.
  • Her favorite role is being my baking coach when I try to make her famous yeast rolls. My siblings and I try very hard to recreate her favorite recipes!

We will never forget seeing my mother teach my 50-year-old-brother how to make his first peach pie and mix his first batch of rolls. As I write this, I'm smiling and thankful for each occasion I see the spark in Mom's eyes as she lets her voice be heard with the decorations, gift selections and most of all the food. This holiday season, I will continue to make a conscious effort to not let SAD control this time of year and to plan ways we can make new memories that will put smiles on our faces for years to come.

How do you create new family memories during the holidays? What suggestions do you have for loved ones coping with Seasonal Effective Disorder? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.