Contributed by Lisa Packer
The holidays are upon us, and many of us are looking forward to going to parties and getting together with extended family over the next couple of weeks. Some enjoy the frenetic pace of family gatherings, shopping, cooking and travel, and don’t even mind that some radio stations started playing Christmas music 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 in a news release.
Studies have linked untreated hearing loss to loneliness, stress and depression, feelings which intensify during the holiday season. If you have hearing loss, you may find holiday gatherings difficult due to the frustration of trying to participate in conversations with family and friends. You might even avoid parties and get-togethers. But unfortunately, 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.”
Get back into the festive spirit
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 festivities.
- 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.
- Connect. Loneliness and isolation are associated with depression, as is hearing loss. Don’t avoid parties and gatherings; make 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.
- Embrace past traditions. 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.
- Recharge. Even with hearing aids, your hearing still might not be 100 percent. Trying to listen to conversations in background noise of holiday parties can be tiring, so be sure to get some downtime and plenty of rest.
- Talk about it. Give family and friends the opportunity to support you by letting them know what you are going through.
Help is a text message away
If you are not comfortable talking to family or friends about your feelings of sadness, there is another option. Now, you can try a 24 hour crisis text line. The free, nationwide text line receives milions of texts annually. Though the crisis text line was originally intended for teens, whose preferred method of communication is texting, it quickly found another, unintended group of beneficiaries: those with hearing loss. The hotline is now being used by the deaf and those with hearing loss who are feeling the need to reach out due to personal crisis.
Text “HOME” to 741-741 to connect.
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 includes dealing with hearing loss issues as well. Those with hearing loss who reach out to the crisis hotline will find an empathetic, well-trained staff member, some of whom are deaf or hearing impaired themselves. Their training includes closed-captioned training videos, chat-based training sessions and ASL interpreters and transcribers. Just text “HOME” 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.