Lori Kanat Edelson
A 2017 AARP Foundation study revealed that while the holidays are a time of joy and excitement for many, with adults reporting feeling happy, loved, joyful and excited, three out of 10 of the same respondents said they have felt lonely during past holiday seasons, and four out of 10 respondents said they have worried about a friend or family member feeling lonely during the holidays.
Most of us think of holidays as a festive season when families make special arrangements to gather together to spend time and reconnect. How is it possible that so many also experience profound loneliness and isolation during this time of the year?
Some people are far away and unable to travel to be with family or close friends, while others feel anxiety and shame because they believe they have not met the expectations others have for them or they have for themselves. Still others may mourn the relationships with family they wish they had, and some are acutely aware that they are not in a significant relationship and feel detached and different from the mainstream.
These are only some of the myriad reasons why people may feel isolated, lonely and distant during the holidays. Social media has also played a significant role in the experience of feeling left out, less happy and less successful than friends and acquaintances whom they see on Facebook, Instagram and other sites that can lead to feelings of inadequacy and failure.
What can we do to reduce these feelings of loneliness? The first, and most important answer, is to reduce our unrealistic expectations. While you may imagine others have a “picture perfect life,” instead pay more attention to all you have in your life and focus on the positives. Also recognize you do not have to be part of a couple to find value and meaning in your life. Think about things you enjoy, what you feel grateful for, and consider new challenges and experiences you would like to plan for the weeks and months ahead.
Our sense of self-worth must come from within, not from dependency on others who help us feel valuable. Third, reach out and communicate with relatives or friends you have not spoken to or spent time with lately. Finally, remember people find joy when helping others and giving back. Consider donating your time, volunteering for a cause you feel passionate about, or helping those who are less fortunate than you.
If loneliness is a feeling you experience most of the time and, after making attempts to reduce your isolation and sadness you still feel alone and blue, it may be worthwhile to consider professional help.
Talking with a therapist to identify the cause of your loneliness and to establish ways to reduce these feelings and replace them with positive, grateful, satisfied feelings, is an important gift you can give to yourself this holiday season.
Lori Kanat Edelson, LMSW, ACSW, BCD, LMFT, of the Birmingham Maple Clinic specializes in anxiety and panic, chronic illness, couples counseling, depression, grief and loss, family issues, gender orientation issues, LGBTQA, marriage/relationship issues and mood disorders.