Hearing loss and the holiday blues
The holidays are almost upon us, and many of us are looking forward to going to parties and getting together with extended family over the next couple of months. Some enjoy the frenetic pace of family gatherings, shopping, cooking and travel, and don’t even mind that some radio stations started playing Christmas carols in October. But for others, the holiday season brings a sense of isolation and loneliness. Those with hearing loss, especially, are at greater risk for the “holiday blues."
“For many of the millions of hearing impaired Americans, especially the 27 million living with untreated hearing loss, the holidays may not be all that happy,” audiologist Cindy Beyer said.
Studies have linked untreated hearing loss to loneliness, stress and depression, feelings which intensify during the holiday season. Many of those with hearing loss or hearing impairment can find holiday gatherings difficult due to the frustration of trying to participate in conversations with family and friends. They might find themselves avoiding parties and get-togethers. But unfortunately that is not a solution; avoiding holiday gatherings altogether just leads to further loneliness, isolation and depression — and the cycle continues.
Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D., the executive director of the Better Hearing Institute, explains the dichotomy of the festive holiday season against a backdrop of hearing loss: “the holiday season is meant to be a time of thanks, celebration and joy,” he said. “But for many people, it is a time of year when unaddressed hearing loss can cause them to feel particularly isolated and depressed. Even when surrounded by loved ones, a family member’s impaired ability to hear and actively participate in conversation cuts them off. Oftentimes, they are left with a sense of sadness, inadequacy and emotional isolation. This is especially true when the hearing loss is either unrecognized or is being ‘hidden’ by the family member with hearing loss.”
Just because you have hearing loss doesn’t mean the holidays have to be stressful and depressing. There are steps you can take to have a joyful season and be able to participate in the conversation and the festivities.
- First, don’t let another year of struggling to hear go by. See a hearing care professional to get a hearing screening and treatment.
- Speak up. Let friends and family know you have hearing loss so they can accommodate your hearing needs. Most people are quite happy to help by facing you when speaking, speaking clearly and distinctly and repeating things if necessary.
- Loneliness and isolation are associated with depression, as is hearing loss. Don’t avoid parties and gatherings; embrace the season by making plans to attend holiday gatherings, or get together with friends.
- Volunteer. There are many charitable organizations looking for help this time of year. Volunteering can not only take your mind off your troubles, it can make you feel more socially connected, helping reduce loneliness and depression. Visit a nursing home, work at a soup kitchen, help out at a toy donation program or wrap gifts for charity; any time you give in service to others will lift your mood and make the holiday season brighter.
- Embrace the season by bringing back joyful memories and activities from the past. What did you used to love to do? A walk in the crisp winter air, baking cookies, making handmade ornaments, singing favorite songs or resurrecting a traditional family recipe can help connect you to past experiences and bring back the joy of the season.
- Make sure to schedule some down time, too. Even with proper hearing aids, your hearing still might not be 100 percent. Trying to listen to conversations amidst background noise of holiday parties can be tiring, so be sure to get plenty of rest.
And if you just can’t seem to shake the holiday blues? Reach out to someone to talk about it. Give family and friends the opportunity to support you by letting them know what you are going through.
If you are not comfortable talking to family or friends about your feelings of sadness, there is another option. Now, for the first time, those who have hearing loss or those who are deaf or hearing impaired and need someone to talk to have access to a 24 hour crisis text line. Started two years ago, the free, nationwide text line has received more than 8 million texts. Though the crisis text line was originally intended for teens, whose preferred method of communication is now texting, it quickly found another, unintended group of beneficiaries: those with hearing loss. The hotline is now beginning to be used by the deaf, hearing impaired and those with hearing loss who are feeling the need to reach out due to personal crisis.
Prior to the availability of the text line, anyone with hearing loss who was feeling depression during the holidays had nowhere to turn and very few resources available. Now, not only is the crisis hotline available for people to text to, but training for those who staff the hotline is beginning to be hearing loss inclusive as well. Those with hearing loss or hearing impairment who reach out to the crisis hotline will find an empathetic, well-trained staff, some of whom are deaf or hearing impaired themselves; their training now includes closed-captioned training videos, chat-based training sessions and ASL interpreters and transcribers. Just text “START” to 741-741 to connect and start the conversation.
Don't let the holiday blues get you down. If you or a loved one has hearing loss, make this the time to reconnect and bring back the joy of the season once again.