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Loneliness: How to Cope During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is here. For some, that means cherishing time with family and friends, but for many, especially those who feel emotionally distant or isolated from others, it’s a time of year that leaves them particularly vulnerable to feelings of loneliness. On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we interact with each other and experience events, making the holiday season potentially even more challenging and feelings of loneliness more common. In fact, a 2020 survey found that 70% of people in the U.S. reported feeling various degrees of loneliness heading into last year’s holiday season, with more than 10% reporting extreme loneliness.

Though loneliness is common, how and why people experience it varies widely. Some people may live a happy and healthy life with minimal social interaction, while others may have contact with family and friends and still feel alone. Many factors, like isolation due to the pandemic, the loss of a loved one, and even the weather can increase feelings of loneliness. Those who live alone, the elderly, and those grieving tend to experience loneliness more than others.

Feelings of loneliness can also severely negatively impact your physical and mental wellbeing and put you at risk of developing unhealthy habits. Researchers have said loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes daily.

It’s important to acknowledge the dynamics in your life that may influence feelings of loneliness so you can take small steps to protect your mental wellbeing. If you’re experiencing feelings of loneliness this holiday season, use these tips to cope in a healthy way:

  1. Remember that you’re not alone. It’s OK to feel isolated during the holidays, and you are not alone. You may long to be with family but can’t, or you may mourn loved ones or past relationships. Talking to others who may share your feelings (either via the Internet or in person) can help you examine where your emotions stem from and make you feel less alone in your situation. If you feel uncomfortable and burdened by feelings of loneliness and find it challenging to deal with, consider talking to a professional about how you feel.
  2. Reach out to people around you. If you feel isolated, make it a priority to work on your relationships with others. Exchange friendly words with neighbors or coworkers. Write holiday cards to loved ones. Call or video chat old acquaintances. Attend a holiday event. Connecting with others strengthens bonds and can help you feel less lonely. Engaging in fun or exciting activities will also distract you from negative thoughts and allow you to focus on building a supportive network.
  3. Practice self-care. Focus on taking special care of yourself. Take time to implement healthy habits like exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating nutritiously. Engage in activities that you enjoy. That might include reading a good book, relaxing with a warm bath, learning something new, or devoting time to a favorite hobby. Good self-care habits will keep you entertained and boost your mood.
  4. Redefine your expectations. Many people have high expectations for this time of year. Popular culture portrays the holiday season as synonymous with spending time with close family, friends, and romantic partners. But no matter what culture tells us, that’s simply not true for everyone – and that’s OK. Focus on the good things you have in your life instead of comparing yourself to how you think others are spending the holidays.
  5. Give back to your community. Volunteering to support a cause you believe in is a great way to feel less lonely during the holidays (or any other time). Helping others who are less fortunate can remind you of all you have to be grateful for and leave you with a sense of love and admiration for yourself. Soup kitchens, animal shelters, senior assisted living homes, or organizations such as Toys for Tots are all excellent volunteer options this time of year. You can also reach out to neighbors or friends who are experiencing hardship. These experiences can also help cultivate gratitude, which can make you feel better about your situation.

The holidays can be challenging. Whether you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, isolated from others because of the pandemic, or simply far away from family and friends, there are ways that you can cope with feelings of loneliness and take care of your mental wellbeing. By keeping these tips in mind or sharing them with anyone you feel may be at risk of experiencing loneliness, you can #BeTheDifference for yourself and others this holiday season.

For more information and tips around how to cope during the holiday season , read these blogs from Mental Health First Aid:

  1. Mental Health During the Holidays: Five Tips to Ease the Struggle
  2. How to Cope with Physical Distancing During the Holidays
  3. How to Support Your Loved One With a Mental Illness During the Holidays
  4. Four Tips to Manage Social Anxiety this Holiday Season
  5. Coping with an Eating Disorder During the Holidays

 

Sources:

Cuncic, A. (2020, November 25). How to Cope When You Are Alone on Thanksgiving. Verywell Mind. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-cope-when-you-are-alone-at-thanksgiving-3024302.

Health Resources & Services Administration. (2019, January). The “Loneliness Epidemic.” Retrieved November 29, 2021, from https://www.hrsa.gov/enews/past-issues/2019/january-17/loneliness-epidemic.

Hurst, A. (2020, November 17). More than 1 in 10 Americans feel extreme loneliness heading into winter holidays, primarily driven by pandemic isolation. ValuePenguin. Retrieved from https://www.valuepenguin.com/coronavirus-causing-holiday-loneliness.

Morava, M., & Andrew, S. (2021, April 17). Loneliness won’t end when the pandemic ends. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/17/us/loneliness-epidemic-covid-wellness-trnd/index.html.

Scott, E. (2020, December 9). Dealing with Loneliness During the Holiday Season. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-and-the-holidays-3144645.

Tartakovsky, M. (2013, December 16). Coping with loneliness during the holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/coping-with-loneliness-during-the-holidays#Seek-company.