6 tips for managing holiday loneliness

The holiday season is often synonymous with spending extra time with friends, family and coworkers — but it can also trigger feelings of loneliness.

Whether it’s grieving the loss of a loved one, overcoming a breakup, coping with financial stress or just feeling disconnected, the “holiday blues” are so common they have their own name. Common, however, doesn’t mean normal.

Chronic feelings of loneliness can be a cause for concern. Loneliness can have a devastating impact on one’s long-term psychological and physical health — it can predispose individuals to depression, Alzheimer’s disease, suppressed immune function, stress on the cardiovascular system and even affect longevity.

Make it a priority to practice self-care strategies like these, which can help manage loneliness during the holidays:

1. Maintain realistic expectations

The holiday hype is everywhere: movies, songs and advertisements are all about happy couples and families enjoying this wonderful time of the year. But unrealistic expectations can end in disappointment, and life doesn’t always measure up to movie standards. Use past experiences to draw boundaries that avoid rekindling painful memories or unhealthy patterns of behaviour. Don’t focus on the absence of a romantic partner or close family members, and pay attention to what — and who — you do have instead. You’ll realize that you’re probably less alone than you think.

2. Get involved

While finding the time and energy to reach out during a difficult time can be hard, research shows that the most powerful tool against loneliness is connection.

The positive effects of social interactions offer a plethora of health benefits. If you are suffering from seasonal loneliness, try not to isolate yourself — instead, reach out! Search for local clubs, meetups and events. Ask local community centres or religious institutions about volunteer opportunities. Meet with friends, family or neighbours or organize an event of your own. Above all, let the people around you know that you need their support during this difficult time.

3. Practice gratitude and give back to someone less fortunate

Social actions that facilitate a connection with others generate a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being. Therefore, if you are struggling with seasonal loneliness, try to focus on the things you have to be grateful for instead of what is missing. Think of positive ways you can help others that may have less than you too. In the process, you may find that the love and light you give to others will actually nourish your own soul!

4. Spend quality time with yourself

It’s important to remember that spending the holidays alone does not necessarily mean feeling lonely. In fact, having time off from everyday responsibilities can be a great opportunity to indulge in some special activities or treats. Try ordering in or making a special meal, watching movies, taking a bath or journaling. Check out local libraries, galleries, museums or cinemas ─ many have special exhibits or concerts during the holiday season. Give yourself permission to enjoy your own company, and take time to process your emotions.

5. Stay active

The positive psychological and physiological effects of regular exercise are well-documented, and research indicates that even modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. Exercise releases feel-good chemicals that counteract the negative effects of loneliness, and group fitness classes or sports teams can also lead to new relationships.

6. Limit time on social media

While Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media sites may promise to connect us to our friends, there is a strong correlation between social media use and self-reported levels of loneliness. According to the study, decreasing the amount of time spent on social media platforms resulted in lower rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness. Around the holidays, navigating the online world can be especially hard when profiles are inevitably filled with posts about family gatherings and significant others. To avoid being exposed to something that will trigger feelings of loneliness, try to limit the amount of time you spend online.

Loneliness is hard to cope with at any time of the year, but it can be especially difficult during the holidays with the added pressure and societal expectations. It’s okay to not be okay, but if your feelings of loneliness last more than a few weeks, or if you start being overwhelmed and significantly challenged by daily life, you may consider reaching out to a professional. For immediate help, use your virtual care platform. Medisys On-Demand healthcare professionals remain available 24/7, even during the holidays.