It was the first Thanksgiving / Hanukkah without her husband of 47 years. Nothing seemed right. For the first time, she was not hosting either celebration, her daughter and son took the holidays over to relieve her stress. But without the rituals and traditions, Nikki felt more isolated and alone.
As soon as the first sign of Christmas arrived in the stores, Brandy took a deep breath to hold back the flood of dread. She hated the holidays. This time of year was all about family and she didn’t have one. It only served as a reminder of what she was missing in her life and what she secretly longed for but was unable to achieve.
The holidays were confusing for Aaron. On the outside, he had everything: a well paying job, wife, kids, and close friends but on the inside, he was hurting. While everyone around him busied themselves with plans, preparations, and parties, he felt like he was standing still, alone, isolated, and unable to move or feel.
Feeling lonely is bad enough but add the holidays to the mix and instead of helping, the feeling intensifies and magnifies. This untimely phenomenon tends to isolate even further and can bring about a more profound depression. In some cases, the hopelessness may lead to suicidal thoughts. If this sounds like you or someone you know, here are some tips to help.
Give the feelings a name. The contrast is shocking. Everyone else seems to be happier. So the 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: this is loneliness. Or worse, that life is not worth living: this is depression. Naming the feelings don’t give them more weight, rather it defines an experience and provides a starting point.
Speak it out loud. “I feel lonely. It is OK for me to feel this way. Everyone experiences it. Anyone in my position would feel the same thing.” By saying these lines you are acknowledging the feeling, accepting it as normal, and recognizing that you are not alone in feeling alone. This is a stark contrast to feeling guilty or angry for having these feelings. But this is not the place to stop. Some small changes can be made to relieve the loneliness before it escalates.
Consider your perspective. Everything is not what it seems this time of year. The reality is that many others struggle with the holidays financially, emotionally, physically, mentally, and even spiritually. Statistically, depression rates are higher due to the extra demands on time, energy, work, and family. Feelings of loneliness spill into depressed thoughts with each feeding the other in a negative spiral. The problem is that few people talk about it leading to even more isolation.
Talk to a friend. Being honest about the feelings is healthy and talking to someone is essential. It might be more difficult to confide in the family during this time of year, so consider a close friend or counselor. 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.
Check your boundaries. One of the causes of loneliness is a lack of appropriate boundaries. How? Consider the playground. Without a fence, children tend to hover around the equipment. A playground with a fence close to the equipment is frequently climbed over. In contrast, a playground with a fence far from the equipment frees the children to run around even more. Proper boundaries are the same thing. Decide ahead of time what you will and will not do allowing some room for flexibility.
Reset expectations. Not every year needs to look the same to maintain a sense of tradition and meaning during the holidays. This might be the year to take things slower, not decorate as much, try a new recipe, go away for the some of the holidays, get a massage, and take a break from the celebrations. Perhaps one small change might just be the start of a new healthy tradition that adds meaning.
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 feeling is part of grieving. 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.
After trying these steps, if your feelings of loneliness and depression are the same or worsening, please seek out a professional counselor. Any thoughts of self-harm should be dealt with immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.