Loneliness is at an all-time high in our society. Now, we enter a holiday season socially-distanced.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise, holidays surrounded (physically) by family seem less and less a good idea. As the pandemic reaches a peak, we are more likely to be physically and emotionally alone. Survey data (pre-pandemic) reports that almost half of participants sometimes or always feel alone1. What’s more, the root cause is identified as social isolation or the lack of social connection. Loneliness is associated with mental and physical health issues, from depression and dementia to heart failure and stroke2. For those of us with a mental illness, the holidays tend to just make it worse3.
On the other hand, the potential for spreading COVID to family and friends is an imminent risk this holiday season. As a culture, we put a high value on our large family gatherings and holiday parties. Yet, it may be best we don’t get together in the same ways this year as we have in the past.
If you’re not visiting family this holiday season, you may be experiencing loneliness. Here are some suggestions to stave off loneliness, anxiety, and depression during this holiday season.
Rumination or Deep Thinking?
There is ample evidence that repetitive negative thoughts are detrimental to your mental health4. This is called rumination. It is essentially our stress response (meant to seek our harmful stimuli and protect us) on repeat. In this context, negative thoughts about not visiting with the family will only worsen the situation. The stress often associated with rumination tends to make our physical health decline as well. This negativity bias kept our species alive for thousands of years, yet in a pandemic, it’s driving our anxiety4.
The idea of deep thinking implies a distance between our thoughts and feelings. It is the act of observing our thoughts for their quality. Also, there is the issue of intent. Deep thinking is a very intentional practice. Rumination is primal, fear-driven, and compulsive.
What can you do to break the cycle?
Go for a walk.
Set time for solving the problem
Reframe your thoughts...I won’t get to see the family this year, but just think how great it will be when I do next year.
Show gratitude..to yourself. Write down three things your grateful for, even in the midst of this pandemic.
Gift Giving: Make it Meaningful
Giving has been demonstrated to lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, provide greater life satisfaction, and even a longer life5. Getting crafty and making the gift, for example, painting, textiles, and creative writing can also greatly impact well-being and life satisfaction6. Additionally, making the gift provides more meaning in comparison to simply buying the gift.
Just … Breathe
Mindfulness practice can have an eternity of benefits. Focusing on breathing techniques and meditation can help in many ways8. Mindfulness practices have been shown to reduce loneliness6. By simply setting aside ten minutes a day and settling your body and mind with deep breathing can reduce negative emotions7. Taking a moment to pay attention to what’s happening inside and outside of your body, lessens stress and anxiety levels. In addition to reducing loneliness, mindfulness can improve social connections in social situations that do arrise9.
Be Aware of Your Reactions
One of the benefits of mindfulness is building awareness. When becoming aware of emotions, become aware of their triggers. Embracing a non-reactive habit to emotions yields a decrease in their negative affect10. Significant experiences of change and loss will cause feelings of grief. These elements are common this year, especially this time of year.
Reset Your Expectations
Often, there is an idea in our minds of how things “should be.” This year things will certainly be different. Come to accept this fact, yet understand that achieving a connected experience with your family and friends is still possible. Though it may not be in a traditional fashion, we sometimes conceptualize the holidays. Making internal adjustments such as embracing a Christmas zoom call provides the experience of connection that is sought10.
Also, social comparison is almost always a poor idea. Don’t allow yourself to compare your experiences to others. If you feel triggered by social media (or hell, your next-door neighbor) pictures from others’ holidays, don’t permit yourself the comparison. We are coping with the frustration, loss, and lack of normalcy the last year has brought upon us.
Take Care of YOU!
During the holidays, many of us have a rare opportunity to reflect. This may arise in the form of longing. The longing for family, friends, security, or family can put us in a state of loneliness10. Practice self-care. Understand you will need some time, space, and tools to reorient your mind and emotions to your current circumstances. I hope the above offers a doorway to the tools that will help in a time of need.