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Dealing with Holiday Stress

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

We all can relate to this one.....that while the Holidays can be a time for cheer and joy, it can be an extremely stressful time for all who celebrate...and for those living with dementia, the added stress and sensory overload can be a huge challenge. Disruptions in routine and large gatherings can overload the brain and increase the chances of confusion, behavioral symptoms, anxiety, withdrawal and depression.

Here are my tips for dealing with stress and anxiety this holiday season.


If you're feeling overwhelmed by a stressful situation, try taking a Break from reality by immersing yourself in MUSIC! Try listening to soft classical or coffeehouse jazz. Playing calm music has a positive effect on the brain and body. It can lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. .try it with your eyes closed....wearing headphones or earbuds. Plus, it is heavenly, like a mini getaway. Even 5-10 minutes can help calm your mood, settle your emotions and give you time to reset.


Taking a break call to call friend or family member can be Priceless! Good relationships with friends and loved ones is important to any healthy lifestyle and there is no time this is more evident then when you are under the additional stress and pressure of the holidays..... A reassuring voice, even for a minute can put things in perspective. A face to face call is even better!! A SMILE can change your day!


Laughter releases endorphins that can improve mood and decrease levels of stress causing hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Laughing tricks your nervous system into making you feel happy. A good Old familiar movie or TV show like I Love Lucy can take you to a happy place in your memory and your heart.


A cup of Green Tea or herbal teas like Chamomile, Lavender, Valerian Root, Passionflower or Lemon Balm contains healthy Antioxidants as well as amino acids that have a calming and soothing effect on the nervous system. Add a few Holiday Cookies....and some Holiday music in the background


The advice...Take a Deep Breath may seem simple...but it can really make the difference in your stress level. For centuries, Buddhist monks and Eastern practices of Qi Gong and Tai Chi have been using deliberate breathing during meditation and movement practices. Daily practice can make it easier to use when you are feeling take that step back, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.


Even if just for a few minutes and it can be Inside if you can't get out. Go in front of a window and march to your favorite rock and roll song! ....SING along while you march - you may end up adding another song or two! MOVING very few hours or even some simple stretching can offer immediate relief during a stressful time. If you are able to get outdoors, nature can be great "medicine". A GPS watch can be a Valuable addition to your Toolbox....even if you have never gotten lost...using location technology can give you the confidence you need.


Use of a notebook to guide you daily can be helpful in keeping some control of your day and as a reminder of important events, appointments, contacts, important information and as your daily "task partner." With the additional gatherings that creep into the month of December, having a check list each day can help keep your sense of your day. Keep it in a place in your kitchen, at your favorite chair or desk and start Every Day with it.....Add the days date at the top and list your tasks and appointments for the day. Keep a pen/pencil attached so you can CHECK off each item as needed. Having this be a part of your routine can provide comfort during those times of increased confusion.


Many factors play into the high incidence of sleep disturbance in people living with dementia and these are amplified with a hectic holiday schedule. Mental and physical exhaustion at the end of the day; taking naps during the day; not getting enough exercise; interference with daily routine, medication side effects and disruption in the natural body clock caused by brain changes in dementia all add to sleep issues.
A good nights sleep makes everything What can you do?
  • Treat underlying conditions. Don't assume its caused by the dementia...sometimes conditions such as depression, sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome cause sleep problems.

  • Establish a routine. Maintain regular times for eating, waking up and going to bed.

  • Avoid stimulants. Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine can interfere with sleep. Limit use of these substances, especially at night. Also, avoid TV during periods of wakefulness at night.

  • Encourage physical activity. Walks and other physical activities can help promote better sleep at night.

  • Limit daytime sleep. Discourage afternoon napping.

  • Set a peaceful mood in the evening. Reading or playing soothing music and a comfortable cool bedroom temperature can help the person with dementia sleep well.

  • Manage medications. Some antidepressant medications, such as bupropion and venlafaxine, can lead to insomnia. Cholinesterase inhibitors, such as donepezil, can improve cognitive and behavioral symptoms in people with Alzheimer's but also can cause insomnia. If the person with dementia is taking these kinds of medications, talk to the doctor. Administering the medication no later than the evening meal often helps.

  • Consider melatonin. Melatonin might help improve sleep and reduce sundowning in people with dementia.

  • Provide proper light. Bright light therapy in the evening can lessen sleep-wake cycle disturbances in people with dementia. Adequate lighting at night also can reduce agitation that can happen when surroundings are dark. Regular daylight exposure might address day and night reversal problems. Some people get good results from Full Spectrum light therapy.


The use of essential oils from plants is called Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years. Its origin can be traced back to the time of the Egyptians, who developed the first distillation apparatus. Today, aromatherapy has been linked to many health benefits – one of them being an improvement of cognitive function and in emotional support for people with dementia. Use of pure essential oils in a safe way can support efforts to reduce anxiety that can lead to agitation, aggression, and confusion. Lavender, cedarwood, marjoram, bergamot and frankincense are a few oils that may have a calming effect on loved ones experiencing these symptoms. Always get guidance from an aromatherapist or your healthcare provider before using any essential oil. Learn more about pure essential oils and anxiety here: Calming Anxious Feelings

Finally, but maybe most important is to stay Connected and tap into a support network helps us to understand and feel understood, capable and nurtured. Sometimes knowing that you have someone who will listen, understand and share community resources like support groups or memory cafes can help you not feel so alone! Every state has an Area Office on Aging and for comprehensive information visit the NIH Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center -

Happy Holidays!!

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