How to deal with loneliness – and other difficult emotions – through the holidays
Many older adults look to the holiday season with anxiety, rather than excitement. The problem: You might have to deal with loneliness or other difficult emotions.
Whether alone or not, some adults feel shrouded in loneliness throughout the holidays. How can that be? Sometimes bad weather, unexpected delays or even a pandemic lead to lonely days. Or some older adults live alone or far from family. On the other hand, older adults can also feel alone in a sea of people and activity because they might miss those who aren’t there or struggle with hearing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider loneliness and isolation a serious public health risk. And it can be worse during the holidays when people are practically expected to be joyous and fulfilled, which can trigger the exact opposite kinds of emotions.
“Older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss,” the CDC warns.
But you can try things now to help you deal with loneliness, blues and stress during the holidays.
Here are five ideas to help with holiday difficulties.
Validate your feelings
No matter how you feel – sad, angry, frustrated, lonely – accept it. You don’t have to – and shouldn’t – ignore or push aside how you feel, Phyllis Diamond, L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist and retirement coach, told the Today Show.
You might share your feelings with a good friend, trusted family member, your health care provider or even your Friends LifeCare Care Coordinator. Sometimes, just talking about difficult emotions helps ease or eliminate them.
Many older adults say they don’t want to burden family and/or friends with their desires for connecting. And then they go through the holidays with unfulfilled needs and expectations.
Instead, tell your family now exactly what you’d love to do together, where and when you’d like to go or have them come to you, and how often you’d like to talk or check in. That way, they can work with you on meeting these expectations – or explain what they can and can’t do so you aren’t disappointed and left feeling more upset.
Extend your reach
If you can’t be with family and friends you normally would see – which contributes to loneliness and other difficult emotions – consider meeting new people or helping others in safe environments. (Remember to stick with COVID-19 cautionary practices such as mask wearing and distancing.)
You might get more involved with your house of worship, which often need extra hands and minds to execute holiday celebrations. Or you might volunteer with local charities that distribute food, clothing, gifts and other necessities to families in need this time of year.
Also, remember there are others like you, feeling lonely or isolated. Maybe you can help them (and yourself) by reaching out. Send holiday cards to folks who might not get many or any. Stop and chat outdoors with a neighbor who lives alone. Or make a phone or Zoom call to a long-lost family member.
Take a break from media
Mainstream and social media can contribute to negative emotions. To deal with loneliness, you might want to turn off – or dial down – interactions with those medias.
News and commentary usually dwell on the negatives in society. Try a classic holiday movie or comedy instead. And social media is often a steady flow of how seemingly wonderful other people’s lives are, which can make you feel worse about your situation. So put down your cellular device or tablet and take a safe walk in nature.
Look ahead, and take stock of when you’ll be alone. Then consider what will make you feel less lonely and sad at those times. And start planning what you’ll do to feel differently.
For instance, if you won’t be with your family on Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukah, plan a special meal you’ll make or order. Schedule the time when you’ll chat or get online with loved ones. Pick a favorite movie or show to watch that day. And plan some physical activity to help keep your mental spirits up, too.
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