Volunteering Banishes the Blues, During the Holidays and Beyond the New Year

The holidays can be a difficult and trying time for seniors, their friends and family members. While observing the holiday season, one can falsely interpret that everyone is happy, loved and celebratory. Contributing to this feeling is the nonstop airing of holiday shows and images on social media. We may also feel pressured to feel happy when seeing others buying presents, seeing seasonal ads and commercials, and hearing holiday music everywhere. Through it all, we may be unable to stop our mind from reminiscing about the past. A senior may ask himself the question, “Why is everyone happy when I am experiencing the holiday blues?”  This feeling of being alienated from others is not atypical, but should be addressed with creative ways to manage the holiday blues.
Instead of following the usual suggestions of reflecting on happy memories of the past and finding ways to remain distracted, why not adopt a new plan for the new year? An approach that has proven helpful to others — and which may be beneficial to both you and your community — is to celebrate the holiday season by giving back. This may also be a way to celebrate by beginning a new tradition that does not involve the material side of the season.  There are no rules about how to spend the holidays and the new year, so if the old way doesn’t work, start anew.
Giving Back
You may ask yourself why you should help others when you are feeling blue? However, when you are helping others, it is difficult to feel sad and you will find that you are also helping yourself. There are many ways to give
during the season, including:
  • Volunteering your time
  • Donating money
  • Giving new or gently used items needed by a charity, for example, televisions, books, furniture, and arts and craft items. Just check with the charity beforehand to make sure that it will accept your donation.
Even though you may think that volunteering, donating or helping others is just a nice thing to do, you may be surprised by what you will learn. According to a recent study in The Gerontologist, seniors who volunteer benefit socially, emotionally and physically. In a study led by University of Pittsburgh researchers, it was reported that seniors who volunteer benefit initially and see benefits one year later to their self-esteem, personal growth, mental health and social life.
Through volunteering, seniors often report finding a new purpose in their lives that has been lost following retirement and subsequent life changes. Studies have also shown that those that volunteer have a lower mortality rate and experience fewer symptoms of chronic pain. You will also feel a sense of accomplishment, meet new people and make a difference in the world.
According to a study conducted at the London School of Economics, those that volunteered reported being happier. You may learn new skills or share the many rich experiences that you gained from both your work and life experiences.
You may still be asking yourself what are the benefits of volunteering. They are vast and can be summarized by:
  • Increasing self-confidence, self-esteem and life satisfaction
  • Providing a new sense of meaning and purpose in your life
  • Taking your mind off your worries
  • Combatting depression.
  • Keeping you in regular contact with others
  • Helping you stay physically healthy
You may be concerned that volunteering is too large a commitment or that you have too many obstacles in your life, including health issues, other responsibilities and transportation problems. Volunteering is always flexible in scheduling unlike many jobs. People with disabilities or chronic health issues can volunteer and contribute to organizations that need your help. You may consider volunteering at home via phone or computer. Also, projects that involve writing, answering help lines, clerical work or conducting surveys can be performed at home. You may also want to clean up your house or your closet and donate items that are taking up space, but would still be of benefit to others.
How do you get started with volunteering, donating and celebrating the holidays and the new year in a new way? Ask yourself the following questions when deciding where to volunteer:
  • Where would you like to
  • volunteer and/or what type of organization/charity that you would like to help?
  • What type of volunteering would you like to do?
  • What is on your list of skills and experiences?
  • Do you want to learn a new skill or try something new?
  • Would you like to work with adults, children or animals?
  • Do you like to work alone or with others?
  • What amount of time would you like to volunteer?
  • What causes are important to you?
When thinking about donating, consider:
  • How would donating money help make someone else’s life better?
  • Do you have personal things that are cluttering up your home and would benefit
  • others?
  • Do you have two of the same thing that could help someone’s life?
  • Do you have gently used clothes that could help someone in need?
There are many resources that can help you and people you can talk to in order to get started on your new mission and purpose in life.
Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a geriatric clinical psychologist at Abramson Center for Jewish Life.


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