Written by Yoni Sobin
This time yearly, society blasts us with holiday music, jingles, lights, and festivities as individuals of all backgrounds celebrate holidays both secular and religious. We’re told this is a time for family, coming together, and celebration. We’re supposed to feel happy, joyful, and full of light. For many, this is their reaction to the holiday season. People talk about gathering for family dinners, “going home for the holidays,” and Aunt Mildred’s comments that elicit humorous glances among siblings.
For others, however, the holidays embody a more uncomfortable and emotion – loneliness. Not everyone has strong family ties, family that lives nearby. Not everyone can afford buying gifts without financial strain and not everyone is reminded of pleasant holiday memories. For some, family causes much distress, especially when we are around them for extended periods of time.
To make matters worse, moods often shift as the weather gets colder and many individuals experience a variation of Major Depressive Disorder with a seasonal fluctuation pattern. Cold makes people less likely to leave their homes, and also makes people less likely to exercise, which would improve depression. Individuals may also socialize less with friends and family, adding to one’s loneliness.
Loneliness is not inconsequential. It can lead to depression, reduced quality of life, (ironically) social isolation, and even increased mortality risk! By nature, humans are social beings, and we yearn for connection. Socially isolated individuals are therefore at a higher risk for suicide, especially individuals of geriatric age.
Thus, as we hunker down for the cold months ahead, it’s important to keep regular social connections. We need to push ourselves extra to get through the rough patch of the year called winter. Rather than choosing to isolate, to disengage in the comfort of our warm, toasty homes, let’s make an extra effort to remain connected. Pick a night in the future and invite people over for a game night. Create a “social checklist” for yourself, and each day tick something off that list. Even the smallest of gestures can improve one’s quality of life, such as smiling at someone on the subway during your ride each day to work, wishing the person behind the check-out counter a “Happy Holidays”, or saying “Shabbat Shalom” someone at your local synagogue. You can also check out www.meetup.com, a website to facilitate social interaction based on shared interests. Enjoy reading? There a group for that. Knitting? There’s a group for that too. Comic books? Yup. They’ve got that. Scrabble, Cards Against Humanity, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Jewish, Muslim. You name it, there’s a group of like-minded people out there. Other opportunities might present themselves in the form of adult education classes to learn about painting or writing or something else. All of these basic social activities not only promote interaction and reduce loneliness, but they help us to hone skills and we feel accomplished and more confident. Parent/toddler groups can also provide social opportunities for single or stay-at-home parents. Getting a massage or a visit to the doctor’s office can relieve some loneliness by providing interactions which, though in some ways superficial, allow for opportunities to meet others. Even the internet can help reduce loneliness and boredom. How else would you have found this blog post?
On a community level, we can also reach out to those individuals to increase the chances to socializing with peers. If you know someone who you suspect might be struggling with loneliness, invite them over to your apartment or house for a warm cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa. Be active rather than passive, and don’t expect those who may be struggling with season depression to ask for help. Ask your friends and neighbors how they are doing, building your own social connections further.
For some individuals though, loneliness and sadness have become so much the norm that it’s a struggle to do these things on their own. In such cases, asking for help from a professional is the best way to help yourself. Particularly if you struggle with thoughts related to harming yourself or worse – while these thoughts are normal, especially if you feel alone, it’s a sign that it’s time to ask for help.