Feeling lonely is bad enough but add the holidays to the mix and instead of helping, the feeling intensifies. This strange phenomenon tends to isolate even further and can bring about a more profound depression. In some cases, the hopelessness may lead to suicidal thoughts.
The contrast is shocking. Everyone else seems to be happier. There is extra stuff crowded the store aisles with bright and cheerful colors screaming “buy me”. The aroma of scented candles and flavored coffee permeates the air. The music is loud and joyful with new versions of familiar lyrics. The traffic is busy. Lights are flashing, decorations are hung, and the excess of delicious food and drink dominate the atmosphere.
On the surface, no one else seems to be lonely. Feelings of alienation magnify, thoughts become stale, and life seems more like a movie happening to someone else. The conclusion is that it is better to be alone then fake happiness. Or worse, that life is not worth living. This is not the place to stop. Some small changes can be made to relieve the loneliness before it escalates.
Examine the perspective. Everything is not what it seems. The reality is that many others struggle this time of year financially, emotionally, physically, mentally, and even spiritually. Depression rates are higher due to the extra demands on time, energy, work, and family. Being honest about the feelings is healthy and talking to someone is essential. Instead of surviving yet another party, invite one person out for coffee who seems to be isolated as well and talk. They might have the same perspective. Or if the depression worsens, speak to a professional counselor to gain a different perspective.
Establish boundaries. One of the causes of loneliness is a lack of appropriate boundaries. How? Examine a playground for a moment. Several studies have shown that a playground without a fence causes children to hover around the equipment. In contrast, a playground with a fence away from the equipment frees the children to run around yet remain within the confines of the fence. If the fence is too close to the equipment, the fence becomes part of it and is climbed over.
Proper boundaries are the same way; they exist but are neither too restrictive nor too distant to be effective. Some friends and family tend to be too intrusive resulting in a desire to run away instead of engaging in relationships. There is nothing wrong with deciding ahead of time what will and will not be discussed or done. The boundaries create a safeguard. Just make sure someone is invited into the playground.
Explore the season of life. If the cause of loneliness is a death, divorce, or other significant life change within the last year, then this is still part of the grieving period. Any major life event can bring about a difference in how the holidays are celebrated. It is normal to recall and even miss past festivities. Even when the life change is for the better, grieving over the loss is healthy. Don’t deny it the change. Instead, recognize it and welcome it as part of the grieving process. This begins the process of looking forward to creating new traditions.
If these steps are not helpful, seek out a professional counselor to work through the loneliness and depression. Any thoughts of self-harm should be dealt with immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.