Ah! The festive season is here again. But if you’re not quite ‘feeling it,’ you’re not alone. Coping with depression or loneliness is challenging at the best of times, but during the holidays, that feeling can be overwhelming. So, if you’re low, despite the bright lights, here’s what to if you’re feeling lonely at Christmas.
Joining us today is Erin Cantor from Choosing Therapy. Erin is a therapist with a Master’s in Clinical Social Work. Her specialization is mood disorders among college students and young adults.
Why do you feel more lonely at Christmas?
Traditionally, the festive season is seen as a time for family. A time when we all get together and celebrate. But, if you’re alone, and that can either be a physical distance from loved ones or an emotional one, then Christmas and other family-orientated celebrations can feel extremely isolating.
This year will be especially challenging for many in light of COVID restrictions and concerns about seeing older or vulnerable relatives. Making loneliness a top concern this year.
Why is loneliness so problematic?
Today, loneliness is one of the biggest challenges we are facing. Statistically, it affects approximately 3 in 5 Americans, making it exceptionally common. And this is in spite of all the technologies designed to connect us, and before the effects of the coronavirus lockdowns.
But loneliness isn’t just about feeling sad. Did you know that loneliness? (x)
- Increases your risk of death by 26%
- Linked with higher blood pressure
- Can lead to impaired cognitive function and dementia
Meaning that if you’re feeling lonely for a sustained amount of time, this is not only detrimental to your mental health, it affects your physical health too. Conversely, when we are connected to others, there is a 50% reduced rate of early death, meaning talking and connecting is not just a way to pass the time, it's good for your health too.
Why will Christmas 2020 be so different?
“Christmas during COVID-19 is different this year because it's so much about isolation. And isolation is very much about a lack of real connection, which is what true loneliness is all about.” Tells Erin Cantor.
This year especially, after long periods of lockdown and forced isolation, what should be a time of celebration in tainted by more loneliness.
“In prior holiday seasons, at least we could go out and sit in the movies or go hang out in a bookstore and browse books and sip coffee. In other words, there was freedom to move about and try to connect. Christmas this year is restricted, and it's that restriction that really leads to isolation and then loneliness.” Continues Erin. This year is exceptional in that instead of being encouraged to gather and share in those family moments, we are encouraged to restrict.
“In the context of loneliness, quarantine and isolation are pretty devastating. They reinforce feelings of loneliness and heighten them.” And this doesn’t just affect those with currently existing conditions. This year, in particular, those feelings of sadness and loneliness may be particularly difficult to deal with. You may also notice increased levels of anxiety and worry about COVID and wonder if it’s safe to visit relatives.
This is an absolutely normal reaction. But, lying down and giving in to those feelings and emotions isn’t a good idea. It can lead to long-term mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. That’s why, if they happen, it’s vital you know how to cope with them effectively.
What not to do if you’re feeling lonely at Christmas?
During the Christmas season, it can seem that everyone is having fun except you. First, this is not the case, and second, you’re not alone in that feeling. For everyone, this Christmas will be very different, and knowing how to cope effectively can help you stay healthy throughout the holiday season.
Here’s our quick list of what NOT to do:
Avoid alcohol, drugs, or other addictive substances.
These may numb the feeling of loneliness for a while but overall contribute to poor mental health.
Don’t let your mind run away with you.
What does this mean? Well, it means don’t panic about everything that might happen. It might not, or it might not be as bad as you think. In any case, worrying is doing you no good.
Don’t try to do everything at once.
You might feel inspired by all those holiday ‘new-you’ campaigns. But signing up to everything isn’t the way to go about it. Focus on what really matters to YOU.
Stop believing the grass is always greener.
It’s not. Every person has their own challenges and issues.
Turn off social media.
At least for a little while. That fear of missing out (FOMO) will get you down.
Don’t stay indoors all the time.
At least once a day, head out and get some fresh air. You will feel so much better.
What are our top tips for combatting loneliness this Christmas?
Now you know what you absolutely shouldn’t do, what should you do to ease that lonely at Christmas feeling? Erin Cantor has a very simple formula.
“In 12 Step recovery there is a lot of talk about the "three A's" - awareness, acceptance, action. I think that applying these three concepts, in this order, are incredibly helpful during the holiday season.” Let’s unwrap.
“First practicing awareness, which is really just acknowledging to yourself that "yes, I'm really lonely right now and it really hurts" is a huge first step. So many times in our lives we invalidate our experiences first and foremost. Getting real with ourselves first about the pain of our reality is important, and surprisingly, not always so easy to do.”
Make yourself aware of how you are feeling. It can help to say it out loud or write it down in a journal, or even to tell another person. The act of doing so solidifies that it is a real thing, not just a silly thought or notion, and is something that is important to you.
“After this, it's then important to practice acceptance around this awareness. And please note that I'm emphasizing the word "practice" because none of us just magically "accepts" things in our lives that easily; rather, hour by hour, day by day, we begin to practice "acceptance" of our circumstances, as well as our thoughts and experiences about our circumstances so that we can (ideally) "be" with them just a little bit more easily.”
“The true gift of practicing acceptance is that we then learn to really face our situation - in this case, loneliness - and then bit by bit face the pain of it with a little more ease. Change doesn't really happen without awareness and acceptance. Sometimes these things take some time, but when dealing with loneliness (which is really a deep ache for connection), it's so important to face the truth of its presence in our lives and also, to allow it to be there.”
It can be difficult to come to terms with that feeling of loneliness. But once you have ‘named the beast,’ so to say, and accept that it real and is happening, you are one step closer to tackling it. Especially, at Christmas, it can be easy to put a shine on things and pretend it isn’t happening. It is and you need to accept it.
And that brings us to action. “Ironically, leaning into the pain of it can really then help us get to the final "a" - action - of how to change it.” Knowing might be part of the battle, but know you know, you need to deal with it and take action.
How that looks for you may be different from someone else, but, below we’ve included some tips and ideas to feel less lonely this season.
What are some things I can do to feel less lonely, right now?
“There are many ways to get connected - online, and yes, even in person,” says Erin, and it’s true. In spite of the challenges that 2020 has brought us, and even if you are feeling lonely this Christmas, that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be this way.
It won’t. Here are some of our top tips for beating that lonely at Christmas feeling.
“The first thing a lonely person can do is to help someone else who is in greater need than them. Go online and google local charities and food banks. Do they need food donations or clothing items? Do they need virtual volunteers? Helping others who are in more pain than ourselves brings about a much-needed sense of purpose and meaning to our daily lives, and really lifts spirits.”
This act of charity helps us feel both grounded – other people have problems too – and connected – I make a difference. Both of which are true, and getting out and doing is one way to stay connected to the world and see it’s not so bad after all.
2.Step outside your front door
“Get outside. Walk. Even if it's just for 20-30 minutes. Also, call up a local pet shelter (if you're not allergic) and sign up to be a dog walker or to even foster a dog. Or a cat.”
Yes, your home is your castle. But it’s not your prison. Being cooped up all the time is bad for our mental health. So, get on those walking shoes and take a few steps outside your front door.
3.Talk to someone
“Start talking. To anyone. The barista who makes your coffee? Strike up a conversation. The grocery store clerk? Say hi. Your next-door neighbor? Talk about the weather, or the neighborhood or whatever. Just put yourself out there. If it's not successful, it doesn't matter. Just keep trying. What's important is to remember that rejection won't kill you and that connection is all about making the effort and to just keep trying. Somewhere, someone is going to recognize the connection and talk back and a friendship can be born.”
Even if it is a five-minute conversation, that very act breaks the monotony of your day and shifts it back into the here and now. We, as humans, need that connection with others to feel a part of something. But the only way to do it is by connecting.So, even if it means doing so in a mask or other personal protective equipment, get out and have a chat with someone.
4.Don't give up
“Loneliness can sometimes be about giving up - it's a belief that no one out there can connect with you. Not true! There are millions of souls waiting, wondering, and hoping to get to know you! Good things are out there, as well as good people. Just keep trying."
You are so strong. You might not see it right now, but you are. Sometimes, it takes all our energy just to get through the day, but the worst thing you could do is give up. Instead, dust yourself off, take a deep breath, and say to yourself, “I can do this!”
Believe it. You can.
Last word on feeling lonely at Christmas
We know, it’s easier said than done, and this Christmas for many will be unlike any other. You may feel lonely, anxious, or even depressed. As we’ve said before, what’s important is not to give in, and realize there are brighter times ahead.
But if you really are struggling, and feel no one can help. Reach out and talk to someone. You can contact your doctor, healthcare provider, or talk to a therapist. Tell a friend, tell a neighbor, tell your postman. Connecting with others is the best way to stop that feeling of loneliness and start getting back into the world.