The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone. Budgets, time constraints, and high expectations can easily leave anyone feeling down and depleted. Those with disabilities often feel the strain of the holidays more than others. As Recreation Therapists, we can use leisure activities for holiday blues to uplift our participants and decrease the stress during the turbulent holiday season.
What are the Holiday Blues?
Many people find great joy this time of year by participating in family traditions, festive parties, and embracing the spirit of the season. Some people, however, experience difficulties as the holidays approach. Feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and stress can put a damper on a season meant for happiness and camaraderie.
As a Recreation Therapist who worked in residential facilities almost 19 years, I’ve seen firsthand how the holidays can be a hard time for individuals. Worries about if their families would visit, feeling powerless to embrace the giving spirit, and simply missing loved ones who passed who they haven’t seen for awhile all contribute to their holiday blues.
As well-intentioned as we are, there’s a good chance we are contributing to the problem. According to an article in Psychology Today, about 56 percent of people responding to a survey said they experience higher levels of stress at work during the holidays. As anyone working in residential facilities knows, our participants pick up on our moods, especially when we are stressed out. We may not react as compassionately or simply not have time to interact with our participants. Sure, there is lots to do. Parties to plan, volunteer groups coming in, decorations and gifts to make. It is…well, stressful.
In addition, many participants are creatures of habit. They like their routines. It’s comforting and predictable. Of course, the holiday season has a great way of disrupting routines. For example, a favorite activity group is postponed due to a group of holiday carolers.
And, of course, we all have to use the rest of our paid time off before the end of the year, which creates staffing issues. Those thriving routine are probably wishing the holidays were already over!
What’s Contributing to Our Participants Holiday Blues?
We all work with different populations with unique issues and strengths. By taking a few mindful minutes and seeing the holidays through our participant’s eyes, we may be better able to plan some leisure activities for holiday blues.
Here are a few examples of what can be contributing to holiday blues:
- A participant may feel isolated and neglected when they see other families visiting. They may worry when they will see their family.
- The constant holiday activities disrupts their daily schedule and routines causing stress and anxiety.
- While health issues are often an everyday concern, the limitations they have may be amplified during the holiday season.
- Some participants struggling with their personal beliefs feel the holidays are only making them feel more alienated.
- Since giving is a major part of the holidays, some participants may not have the means to actually give back causing them to feel inadequate.
- The shorter days and colder weather can also cause restlessness or seasonal affective disorder.
- Their current situations may create a sadness while longing for happier holiday times of the past.
- Hearing staff talk about their holiday plans may also create a longing for better times.
- Stress from the holidays can also increase fatigue, muscle tightness, and other uncomfortable symptoms.
Since we are there for our participants, it is important to be empathetic about what they are going through. Even with your more difficult participants, try to take a few minutes to understand what’s going on with them.
Leisure Activities for Holiday Blues
Of course, this time of year has you swamped. After all, we are doing our best to make sure the leisure time of our participants is fulfilling. While holiday parties are great for many, here are some ideas helping those struggling during this time.
Maintain Some Routines
Those in residential facilities often have little control over their lives. The small things they can control, like an activity routine, go a long way in helping them feel like they have autonomy. If possible, keep the most popular activities on the schedule. This allows those suffering from holiday blues to feel like life is a little more normal. Of course, you could add some holiday themes into popular activities so they can still get a little taste of the season.
Add Relaxation or Meditation classes
Anxiety about the holidays can leave your participants on edge. Consider incorporating some short meditation or guided relaxation sessions to soothe nerves and help them re-orientate back to the present.
Provide Opportunities to Give Back
The holiday season is about giving back. Of course, your participants would love the opportunity to embrace the spirit of giving. This can include making meaningful gifts, supporting one another, and participating in volunteer opportunities. A few simple calls to local non-profit organizations can give your participants unique chances to give back.
Start New Traditions
Sometimes those who have lost loved ones or don’t have the opportunity to spend time with family feel nostalgic for past holiday traditions. While reminiscing isn’t necessarily bad, the constant focus can be a source of depression. Find creative ways to start new holiday traditions. This varies based upon your population, but creating a gratitude tree, a unique holiday party, or an exciting outing can go a long way in creating new thought patterns about the holidays.
Give Them a Break
There is so much going on during the holidays. Sometimes participants need some breathing room. A simple afternoon of watching movies or playing their favorite table games may be a needed refresher.
Find Stress Busters for You and Your Participants
Holiday stress leads to holiday blues. What helps your participants deal with stress? Can you think of a holiday-themed activity that incorporates stress busting? How about a simple bowling game with pictures of reindeers on the pins? Or maybe a bean bag toss around the Christmas tree? Be creative and get everyone laughing!
Give Lonely Participants a Chance to Make Connections
Those suffering from holiday blues often miss the people and places that were once familiar. Allowing your participants to connect with others can cultivate meaningful relationships to reduce loneliness. For example, if a volunteer group wants to come to your facility, use it as an opportunity to socialize. Instead of throwing a big party, let the volunteers take some quality time to connect with your participants. A pen pal program with another agency is another great option for establishing connections. Use the resources you have to create meaningful relationships.
Encourage Physical Activity
All those holiday parties are often filled with opportunities to indulge in excess calories. And sure, it’s great to enjoy some holiday treats. But, come January, is it doing more harm than good? Incorporate a few physical activities into your holiday planning mix. It will help your participants reduce stress and feel better physically. And, of course, make it fun. What would a reindeer workout look like? Or how do Santa’s elves prepare for the holidays?
Don’t Force the Holidays
If your participants just aren’t feeling the holidays, accept it. Use some of the activities mentioned above to keep them engaged without contributing to their holiday blues.
Help be the Solution for Holiday Blues
Your creativity and willingness to adapt to your participants’ issues can make all the difference this holiday season. Of course, your first line of defense is caring for yourself. This is a very stressful time for many Recreation Therapists and Activity Directors. Self-care is essential–not only for your job performance but also for having quality time with your family.
Make sure you take time to find self-soothing activities. Get a massage, hang out with some friends you haven’t seen in awhile, and play some holiday music while you and your family are decorating a Christmas tree.
As you lower your stress, you may help your participants fight the holiday blues.
Share with the Real Recreation Therapist Community!
Your thoughts, ideas, and insights can be an inspiration for others in the profession. As your wisdom inspires others, it improves the lives of participants all over the country–even the world. Take some time to comment below or on your favorite social media platform to help others be the best at their profession.
How do you help your participants deal with the holiday blues?
What are some ways you manage during this stressful time?
What holiday activities do you love doing with your participants?
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Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great and memorable holiday season!