Dealing With Loneliness During The Holidays
Decking the halls this holiday season may look a little different. Holiday dinners are being moved outside by the fire pit to keep social distancing more efficient, plans are being canceled to keep older family members safe. This buck in traditions can lead to strong feelings of loneliness. “We are wired to be connected — to have people to hug, or talk to, or witness our lives,” says Sally Connolly, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Couples Counseling of Louisville. With this predisposed need within us, missing out on gatherings with families or that annual holiday shopping trip with friends can trigger a more noticeable sense of loneliness.
Nicole Sartini-Cprek, clinical director, therapist, and co-founder of Bridge Counseling and Wellness, says, “Our brains are pattern- recognizing machines. We feel a sense of safety when we recognize familiar routines or familiar traditions. Seeing those patterns change can cause an internal sense of anxiety for a lot of people.”
With our holiday routines being thrown off and not seeing those we care about, this level of change can be unnerving. “There’s no doubt that the pandemic is bringing this feeling out for a lot of people,” Nicole says.
If you have sensations of emptiness that become too intense or “are interrupting your ability to perform your responsibilities, then that’s something that needs to be addressed,” Nicole says. If you find yourself slipping in and out of these feelings throughout the day or week but can still function as usual, these are generally feelings that can be navigated.
HERE ARE SOME TOOLS AND ACTIVITIES TO HELP YOU NAVIGATE FEELINGS OF LONELINESS:
- Shift your thoughts to a place of gratitude. “When you think about things you appreciate for 30 seconds, you start to change the chemistry in your brain so that you can start to feel more positive,” Sally says.
- “Do something that you find meaningful,” Nicole says. Engaging in an activity you find meaningful can improve your mood and fill you with a renewed sense of purpose. Try several before you settle on one. If you’re choosing to stay socially distant, Sally says, “there are all kinds of online groups ranging from church groups to book clubs.”
- Exercising is another way you can care for yourself. “Thirty minutes a day of exercise can make a huge difference — especially if you can get outside,” Sally says. Exercise releases endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body.
- Reach out to friends and family via phone or video call. “It can be the quality of social interaction that matters more than the quantity,” Nicole says. Having that one friend or supportive group you can speak with in an authentic way makes a difference. Sally says video platforms are a wonderful way to recreate holiday rituals. “Think about ways that you marked the holiday in the past. Then, try to redo it, like everyone watching the same holiday movie and then talk about it.”