December News: Handling Stress At The Holidays

Holiday Time Is Often “Stress” Time

The holidays are an extra busy time of year filled with baking, shopping, and visiting with friends and family…and stress. Although these are all very fun activities for seniors, these activities may bring additional stress. Here are some helpful tips to reduce holiday stress.

Grandma and grandchildren having fun baking cookies in the kitchen. Holiday baking does not have to be stressful.

Holiday baking does not have to be stressful.

  • The holidays don’t have to be perfect.
  • Lonely? Reach out to others or volunteer your time.
  • Set aside your differences with others until a more appropriate time.
  • Stick to a budget.
  • Plan ahead so you don’t rush at the last minute.
  • Know your limitations. Say “no” if you are tired.
  • Keep your healthy habits regarding exercise. Even 15 minutes of exercise reduces stress. Try Tai Chi for a change of pace.

Missing the “Good Old Days”?

Sadness and grief due to the death of a spouse, family member, pet or divorce are normal especially at the holidays. Changes in health or physical ability and increased dependence on others also adds to loneliness and sadness. It’s OK to express these feelings. If sadness and anxiety persist, and you are unable to handle routine chores, seek professional help.

Bumper-to-bumper driving in a blizzard.

If you need a ride to a holiday event, plan in advance to have someone drive you.

The Weather Outside Is Frightful!
Often, seniors are not able to drive themselves to holiday events. Increased traffic and inclement weather is stressful. Shopping is stressful. Deadlines are stressful.  Stop rushing around an plan in advance. If you need to shop, attend an event or go to the post office, consider getting a driver to get you to and from destinations. With advanced arrangements, there’s peace of mind.

Are You Sleeping Well?

If you’re having trouble sleeping, the added stress of the holidays is not going help. Also, with age, the body produces lower levels of growth hormones, so you may experience a decrease in “slow wave” or deep sleep. Your sleep is more fragmented. You wake more frequently throughout the night. Frequent waking disrupts your circadian rhythm, internal clock that tells you when to sleep and when to wake up.

Sleep Hygiene

On average, you need about 7 to 7 ½ hours of sleep each night. Good bedtime habits, called sleep hygiene, will help you get that needed sleep. Because of holiday activities like parties and extra meals, you may have to focus more on keeping good bedtime habits.

  • Go to bed at the same time every night and follow a routine. No napping!
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal right before bedtime. Limit caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. These are stimulants.
  • Turn off screens one hour before bedtime. Don’t read from a backlit device at night, like a phone or iPad. Rather read with a soft bedside lamp.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool. Use your bedroom for sleep. Don’t do work or watch TV in bed.

    Server brings champagne on tray at holiday party.

    Don’t mix alcohol with over-the-counter medication.

  • Get moving. Regular exercise lifts the mood. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective.
  • If you can’t sleep, get out of bed. Go into another room and do something relaxing till
    you feel sleepy.

Sleep Apnea

People with a disorder called sleep apnea stop breathing during sleep and must wake up to breathe. If you stop breathing for 10 seconds or more, this is mild sleep apnea. More than five apneas per hour is abnormal. More than 30 to 40 apneas per hour severe. Untreated, sleep apnea can result in a number of health problems including:  high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, depression, headaches and obesity.


Men have narrower air passages than women and are more likely to snore. A narrow throat, a cleft palate, enlarged adenoids and other physical attributes that contribute to snoring are often hereditary. Extra fatty tissue around the throat and poor muscle tone does contribute to snoring. Exercising, losing weight and side sleeping may be all it takes to end your snoring.


Older adults also experience insomnia. Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor about your sleep problems! According to the National Sleep Foundation, 44% of older persons experience insomnia. Insomnia causes excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and increased risk for accidents and illness as well as significantly reduced quality of life. Behavioral therapies and/or prescription medications are effective means to treat insomnia.

Senior woman waking up relaxed in the morning.

Focus on keeping good bedtime habits.

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