It’s the happiest time of the year… or is it? For many people, November and December can be the toughest months of the year. Some may picture hearty meals served in a busy kitchen, unwrapping gifts in a cozy living room with a warm fire going, and hosting loved ones that they are excited to see when they think of the holiday season. However, for a lot of people, family pressure, emotional overload, and the stress of paying for it all are what come to mind first. The holidays can leave many feeling even lonelier than they do year-round.
As a refresher from past email articles, loneliness is different from simply being alone. You can feel lonely in a room full of people, just as you may not feel lonely while on your own. The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recognize loneliness, defined as the subjective feeling when someone does not feel connected to others, as an epidemic that can lead to serious mental and physical health issues.
If you relate to often feeling lonely during November and December, you are not alone. The statistics vary, but the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that 66% of people feel lonely during the holidays, while 64% of people struggling with mental illness report that the holidays make them feel worse. Many of these numbers have only been exacerbated by increased social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic in recent years.
Not only are those who are lonely during the holidays not alone in feeling this way, but their feelings are a part of human biology. We must have human connection to survive, so our bodies warn us when we need more of it, just as our bodies warn us that we need to eat via hunger. The manifestation of loneliness may look different in everyone. Some may feel tense and tired, while others are anxious and struggle with decision fatigue. Loneliness could show up in everyday life as a headache or even a compulsion to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
If the holidays are a source of joy for so many, why do some of us experience such a heavy loneliness during this time?
In truth, the reasons will differ from person to person. During the holidays, expectations are high, and there is more pressure than normal on relationships and finances. Flashy commercials on TV, Hallmark movies, and influencers on social media perpetuate the concept of “the perfect life” to convince us to buy more to keep up. Naturally, viewers begin to compare themselves to a lifestyle that is unattainable and may begin to feel negatively about ways their life falls short of perfection.
Not everyone feels loved and supported by their family, partner, and friends. Some may be going through a period of deep grief or struggling with a lifelong strained relationship. Families may be split apart in different cities, countries, or continents without the means to reunite this year.
The holidays can bring about a lot of triggers, such as painful childhood memories, parties with food and drinks outside of daily habits, end-of-the-year deadlines, and significant financial stress from travel, buying presents, and hosting.
Fortunately, there are tools already available in your home and community that can help you alleviate the loneliness and make this season as positive as possible:
To start, the narrative of the holiday season being a magical time should be challenged. Instead, we can focus on practicing gratitude in this season. If you’re currently missing family, maybe a small dinner gathering with friends or colleagues could be a bright spot in your December. Gratitude is far more powerful than many initially realize. You may find some peace in knowing that families come in all different forms and that you aren’t alone in this struggle.
Try a self-care activity and create a peaceful environment for you to enjoy your solo time. Take a relaxing bath, watch a comforting movie, or go for a walk to look at the holiday lights.
Do something for others. Volunteering benefits the community and can also lower stress, isolation, and symptoms of depression. In Dallas/Ft Worth, the North Texas Food Bank, SPCA of Texas, Dallas Arboretum, Dallas Parks & Recreation, and more may be looking for volunteers.
Tap into your creative side, even if the activity is a solo one. Paint, craft, dance, or take yourself to a holiday concert or performance. For example, in Dallas/Ft Worth, almost every day this December, NorthPark will host free concerts and shows in the north court as part of its Sights and Sounds of the Season. There will be performances from local schools and professional companies, like Avant Chamber Ballet and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. (Nov. 28–Dec. 23. 8687 N. Central Expy.)
Lower your screen time. The less exposure to other people’s holiday highlight reels, the better. Remember that most people are posting only the positive sides of their holiday, not their struggles and pain.
Engage in your community. Call and catch up with an old friend or mentor, check out a new exercise class, try a hobby you’ve never tried before like rock climbing in an indoor gym, join group yoga in the park, or find a neighborhood book club. For example, in Dallas/Ft Worth, every Friday in December, the African American Museum is hosting a free matinee holiday movie screening at noon. (Dec. 1–Dec. 29. 3536 Grand Ave.)
If your feelings of loneliness are overwhelming right now, know that you don’t have to handle this burden alone. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or doctor, or call the 988 crisis line to get 24/7 free and confidential support. Professional support from trained counselors could also be a benefit to your daily life, whether your loneliness is heightened during the holidays or consistent throughout the year. D2 Counseling is ready today to assist you in creating the peaceful and joyful holiday season you deserve.