Christmas and the New Year represent, to some people, an ideal time to connect with relatives, to share joy and presents, and to party together. The holiday period can offer the opportunity to break away from mundane routines and to relax, have fun, see your home transformed into a bustling hub of love, and to reflect on the previous year's events.
The holidays don't bring "tidings of comfort and joy" to everyone, however — some people downright dread them. If you suffer from chronic loneliness, this period can feel like a slap in the face. Even if you're not normally lonely, it can hurt to be left alone during a time when seemingly everyone connects with their loved-ones. Finding yourself amidst relatives who don't accept you can also induce a stinging feeling of loneliness and isolation; you don't need to be alone to be lonely. Those who recently lost a loved-one may be stricken with grief during this period.
How do you cope if you're in this boat? And if you're not, how can you spread the joy to someone who may otherwise be hurting during this important time?
Why People Get Lonely During the Holidays
The commonly held idea that more people commit suicide during the period between Thanksgiving and the New Year is, in fact, an urban myth. The idea that the holiday period can inflate feelings of stress, depression, and loneliness is anything but. But why?
When our own lives don't match up to the media ideal of happy families and parties, we can become acutely aware of that fact, even when we are quite happy with our lives the rest of the year. Because Christmas and the New Year are seen as relationship-focused events, it's a period during which we are likely to reflect on the quality of the relationships we have in our lives. And if they're not what we would like them to be, feelings of loneliness can ensue.
Senior citizens are disproportionately affected by loneliness all year round. The UK Campaign to End Loneliness suggests, for instance, that 17 percent of older people in Britain are in touch with their family, friends and neighbors less than once a week, with 11 percent having these social contacts less than once a month. Add to that that 51 percent of UK citizens over 75 live alone, and you get a very bleak picture.
Decreased mobility and illness may make it harder to get together with loved-ones, relatives may be leading busy lives of their own in which the senior seemingly no longer has a place, and the inevitable losses older people have experienced may hurt even more at this time. For seniors who previously enjoyed fulfilling social lives, it can be especially hard to be alone during the holiday period.
Who Else Is Likely To Be Affected?
Anyone who is socially isolated, recently underwent big life changes, or unexpectedly finds themselves alone during the holiday period can be affected by feelings of loneliness during Christmas and the New Year. This can apply to recently widowed or divorced people, singles, those who recently moved to a new area, young adults who have recently left home and haven't found a social circle yet, people who don't have many relatives, and anyone else who isn't having their social needs met during this season.
How To Fix Loneliness During The Holiday Period
Loneliness can have far-reaching consequences on our happiness and self-esteem if it continues too long, making us prone to depression. Likewise, it can impact our physical health by contributing to our risk Alzheimer's Disease, cardiovascular conditions, and a weakened immune system. There are plenty of reasons to set about fixing loneliness, then, either for yourself or for others.
What You Can Do If You Think You May Be Lonely During Christmas And The New Year
In my work as a caregiver to the elderly, I frequently encounter interesting people with widely varying life experiences. One of my clients, who is in her eighties, doesn't have children living nearby and suspected that she'd be alone during the holiday period. Wanting some social action, she took out an ad in the magazine of the atheist group she belongs to and asked if anyone would be interested in visiting a museum with her during those days.
For many people, reaching out to a religious community during the holiday period makes great sense. This ensures you will be surrounded by other people and will have company. My client's story shows that you don't have to be religious to find something to do during the holidays, however. Connecting with other people is one of the most powerful ways to keep loneliness at bay, even if you don't know those people very well yet.
I'm an introvert myself, and I'd rather spend the Christmas period alone, relishing in the fact that I get to take a break from my busy life. My sister, a single woman in her fifties, doesn't feel the same. She invited me to spend Christmas with her as she does every year, but I declined because I really need that time to myself. I don't feel too guilty — luckily, she has been getting together with a group of colleagues to celebrate the holidays a few years now. This, too, is something you could consider. And if you don't have colleagues, try asking your neighbors.
One more thing you can try is something you definitely have access to if you are reading this: keeping yourself busy with the internet. You may be able to talk to people on social media or discussion boards, sign up for a new self-study course, watch all your favorite movies, all day long, or get into a new computer game.
What Can You Do To Help Others?
Do you have relatives, friends, or neighbors you think may be lonely over the holidays? If they live nearby, invite them over for dinner if you feel up for it, or ask them to share a glass of wine and a board game. If you'd rather not spend the whole day with someone, because, for instance, you barely know them, you can still bring over some food and a nice card. Contact those who live too far away to see them in person, by phoning them or getting in touch by Facebook, to let them know you are thinking about them.