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Loneliness and the Holidays

 

“Lonely Why does it always seem that loneliness increases tenfold come the holiday season?  When friends, family and loved ones are brought together, one would assume that the ensuing conversations, parties, dinners, and celebrations would somehow alleviate the growing feeling of loneliness in one’s gut.

However, as any person who feels continually lonely will tell you, surrounding oneself with distractions is not a surefire recipe to escape feelings of isolation.  During the holidays, we as a society often misconstrue family involvement and togetherness as a substitute for real affection and love.  There are stigmatized “expectations” of what is entailed in the ideal holiday season.  Images of loving families brought together in warmly lit dining rooms feasting on freshly prepared meals while sharing family anecdotes and laughing together in joyous glee abound.  As people gravitate towards what we convince ourselves “the other families” are experiencing, we slip deeper into loneliness and depression, acknowledging that our own personal holiday experiences lack the cheery disposition we envision so prevalent in the lives of others.

There are several understandable and universal reasons that people feel alone during the holidays.  For one, many of us are away from those that we love the most.  Whether a spouse, a child, or a best friend, being away from those individuals who provide us the most comfort and support in our daily lives can make a time of celebration seem to be lacking true meaning and happiness.  There is nothing like being around those truly closest to you that makes you feel, at that cherished moment, that you have everything one needs in life to enjoy happiness in its most basic form: simple love.

Another common cause of loneliness is the inevitable invitation to holiday parties that brings together an odd assortment of people from one’s past and present life.  It is understandable why going to a party alone is one of people’s greatest fears during the holidays.  These parties often bring back memories (both good and bad) when we run into people, either purposefully or accidentally, who have somehow affected our lives.  “Seasonal Friends” can bring up a variety of emotions as people often compare themselves with the “life status” of those immediately around us.  Holiday parties have the overwhelming tendency to be less about the actual celebration of a holiday and more about the social jockeying and posturing of egos and status.

Finding solutions to holiday loneliness is not as daunting or as overwhelming a process as people envision it to be. The first suggestion I make is one that holds true for loneliness in general, not just for the holiday blues.  Above all else during the holiday season, stay busy!  Feelings of despair, inadequacy, and loneliness are only accentuated when we seek to shy away from any type of activity or interaction that has the potential to take our minds off of our worries.  Though holidays are often about community, it is not selfish to take time to better oneself through self-serving means such as taking up a new hobby, reading a good book, or sharing funny stories with neighbors, family, and friends.  Wallowing in one’s loneliness perpetuates a self-defeating cycle that only furthers the depressed mood many of us feel during the holiday season.

One mantra that has helped me to feel less alone during the holiday season is: “Understand that you are not alone.  While it may be uncomfortable to feel lonely, it is okay to feel this way.”  Identifying the fact that one is not the only person feeling sad during the holidays brings me comfort as I have come to realize that I had, in the past, greatly underestimated the number of people feeling holiday despair and isolation.  One of the reasons I’ve always suffered from holiday loneliness is that I continue to erroneously picture in my head the joyous times being had by others.  Diverting my attention to what I perceived to be the happiness of others only served to prolong and compound my loneliness.

A more productive coping mechanism for holiday loneliness is identification: realizing that we are not alone and that there are thousands of lonely people just like us suffering during the holidays.  Though bringing two lonely people together doesn’t ensure happiness, the idea that someone out there is going through the same holiday struggles to be happy puts my mind somewhat at ease.  Identification can be a powerful tool – not necessarily serving a purpose to alleviate our problems, but instead as a useful remedy to remind us that we are not alone in struggles to be happy during the holiday season.

The last suggestion I have to avert holiday loneliness is to get directly involved in or connected to your surrounding community.  Everything from acts of servitude benefiting those less fortunate than us to reestablishing or reconnecting with old neighbors and friends greatly reduces the probability that we will remain stuck in our debilitating loneliness.  Merely acknowledging the presence of others seems trivial in nature, but practicing simple, decent kindness goes a long way for improving loneliness.

While the holidays often celebrate grandiose occasions, I have found that one of the most basic needs, human interaction, can be fulfilled on a rudimentary level that provides a stable platform for combating holiday loneliness.  I hope that anyone else who has suggestions to prevent the holiday blues can help add to this list of tips, tools, and techniques so that we can all have a better holiday experience.

 

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Filed under: Holidays · Tags: 12 step program, 12-step, AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, NA, narcotics anonymous, sobriety

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