23 Dec Lonely Over the Holidays? How to Survive the Festive Season
Suffering from loneliness is extremely painful, and never more so than when you feel isolated from others on special occasions. That’s why the festive season is one that many people come to dread.
You might hear others discuss their holiday plans and compare that to your empty schedule. Or, you might be surrounded by others and constantly “on the go” – and yet still feel disconnected and alone. That’s because loneliness is not just about the physical isolation many people experience when they are alone; it also applies to those who feel deeply emotionally and socially disconnected from others. You can be in a relationship or have a large family and still feel lonely and isolated.
Whichever is the case for you – loneliness can be an excruciating experience; one that can deeply impact your health and wellbeing.
How Loneliness Affects Health
Research in recent years has pointed towards the ways that loneliness can impact people over the long-term when it comes to our psychological and physical health. According to Psychology Today loneliness can suppress the immune system, stress our cardiovascular system, increase the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and even effect longevity.
People who feel less lonely may be less likely to catch a cold, and more likely to be able to overcome socioeconomic disadvantages, because they have a better support network in place to turn to when times get rough.
Despite the negative implications for health and wellbeing that it can bring, people often don’t talk about feeling lonely or look for support when they are feeling isolated. For some people, being alone has become normalised, for others it’s hard to admit to feeling lonely when they are surrounded by people and feel they have to “put on a good face” for the holiday season.
It’s hard to talk about feeling lonely or risk reaching out at times – especially when your support network feels limited. But, it’s important to acknowledge how you feel and plan out strategies to help combat the effects of loneliness during this time.
Coping With Festive Loneliness
Feeling lonely during the holiday period is not only painful it can also leave you feeling embarrassed or angry. It’s hard to see other people enjoying themselves and connecting while you feel alone and isolated. However, the first step is to admit how you are feeling and decide to take action to help you get through this difficult time.
Guy Winch, PhD, suggests that overcoming loneliness involves taking emotional risks – which might feel frightening to you if you are used to bottling up how you feel or not reaching out for fear of rejection.
Taking small steps to build your connections can be extremely beneficial, though. It’s also very important that you take the time to care for yourself.
Here’s a few ways you can approach tackling loneliness over the holidays:
- Consider reaching out to friends, family and acquaintances so that you are able to spend time with others over the holidays. It might feel frightening to ask other people what their plans are or to admit you don’t have any plans. But in many cases, people will be happy to involve you if they know you are going to be alone.
- Accept invitations that do come your way. Many people will reject offers to spend Christmas or other days with friends, family or others. When you are used to being lonely it can actually be difficult to spend time with others, especially if your self-esteem has been damaged by your loneliness. Believe that others want to spend time with you and accept offers to join in.
- If you feel up to it try reaching out to people and asking if they want to attend specific activities together in your area. There are usually plenty of celebrations or events happening over the festive period such as performances, charity events or holiday themed events such as carol singing.
- Search out support and help, and talk about how you feel. Often others don’t realize that we feel lonely or isolated. Sharing your situation can be a big step, but often lead to positive results.
- If you feel emotionally isolated, even when surrounded by other people, try to make a plan to find some form of emotional connection over the holidays. If you have friends or acquaintances you normally enjoy spending time with reach out to them. Let them know that you are feeling lonely and disconnected and see if you can meet up and spend an evening or afternoon together.
- Take time to be kind to yourself. Feeling lonely and isolated is a very painful experience. Acknowledge that you feel sad and commit to caring for yourself. This can mean eating well and ensuring you get plenty of exercise and rest. It can also mean holding off on too much alcohol.
- Consider volunteering or getting involved in some community events. This can help get you out of the house and connect you to other people – some of whom may also be feeling the effects of isolation and loneliness.
Many of these ideas for helping you to combat loneliness do involve taking a small risk. Remember that it’s easy when you spend a lot of time alone, or don’t feel emotionally connected to family or loved ones to feel as though reaching out won’t help.
But this is one of the features of feeling isolated – it becomes harder to think about connecting with others because of fears about rejection or being misunderstood. The truth is loneliness is very common, and is on the increase as people become more isolated from one another. Even though it’s easy to make assumptions about other people, you might be surprised to hear that they too feel lonely or isolated much of the time.
The important thing is to take a chance and treat yourself kindly. Be gentle with yourself and take each day one at a time. And know that you are not alone.
If you have any questions or concerns about your health, ask your Health at Hand doctor for advice through our app that can be easily downloaded from the App Store. Click here for more information.
Dr Ruhil Badiani
Family Medicine Consultant