The holiday season typically welcomes extended time with family and friends, parties with co-workers or visits with loved ones from far off places. But with COVID-19, social distancing requirements and travel restrictions mean things this year will look a whole lot different – and a whole lot more isolated too.
Even without a global pandemic, the holidays can heighten feelings of loneliness – drawing into focus stressors like dissatisfaction in romantic relationships, grief surrounding the loss of a loved one or lack of meaningful social connections.
Loneliness – while a state of mind – poses a serious health risk. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic feelings of loneliness can predispose us to depression, increase our risk of Alzheimer’s disease, lead to suppressed immune function or put added stress on our cardiovascular systems.
So – with the pandemic limiting our ability to connect in person with those we love – what are some tools for coping with loneliness this festive season?
We spoke with Lisa Koole, a Registered Psychotherapist, and Joyce Musekiwa, a Canadian Certified Counsellor, who both offer their services on the Inkblot platform about how to manage these distressing feelings as they arise.
- Remember that loneliness is a state of mind. It’s possible to feel alone in a room full of people or completely content curled up at home alone. That’s because loneliness is about a perceived level of connection rather than just a fact of being. One can feel lonely in a relationship if their partner is aloof or in friendships if they don’t feel they have someone to seriously confide in. Musekiwa points out that this means loneliness is a malleable mental state that we can work to reimagine. “Being alone doesn’t mean you’re lacking people that care or a social network,” she says. “Sometimes circumstances place us in a state of being alone but it doesn’t have to result in loneliness. Try to reframe alone time as taking time to be still and regain the energy you’ve used up during the year. Or having more time to know yourself and find comfort in solitude.”
- Manage Your Expectations. It’s important to remember that this will not be the year of Home Alone-style packed airports, cross-country travel or large family reunions around the dinner table. Set reasonable expectations for what your holiday might look like and remember you’re not alone. “This year is going to look different with less social contact for everyone,” says Koole. “It can feel like you are the only person alone but you are not. There can be comfort in knowing other people share your experience.” If you find yourself in a trap of holiday comparison, Koole adds, try limiting your use of social media where everyone presents their holiday “highlight reel.”
- Find Alternative Ways to Connect. Being limited by social distancing requirements doesn’t mean we have to abandon our social activities entirely this holiday. As Koole and Musekiwa both point out, we just need to get more creative. Could you cook a holiday meal with friends over Zoom? Send emails to someone you haven’t connected with in a while? Go for a distanced walk with family? Finding alternate ways to connect with those you love this season will help reduce feelings of isolation.
- Do Things for Yourself. What better excuse for doing things you love than having extended time alone? Could this be the month you finally read that book that’s been sitting on your shelf all year?Teach yourself a new TikTok dance? Pick up a new hobby? Musekiwa points out that during this time of uncertainty, doing things for ourselves is one of the few things we have control over. “Much of our emotional distress comes from the way we perceive our situation,” she says. “Take time to do things that will nurture yourself, enhance your joy level and take your focus off of being alone.”
- Honour Your Feelings. Both Koole and Musekiwa suggest taking time to examine your feelings, whether they’re justified and how you might make positive changes in your life moving forward. “You could be grieving not being with loved ones and it’s ok to be sad. Or maybe you need to change things up and make connecting with people more of a priority,” says Koole.Could you build more social connections by joining online common interest groups? Deepen the relationships you have by reaching out more often? Think about what you might want to be different this time next year and, if it’s in your control, take some action.
- Reach Out For Help. If you find yourself in a state of loneliness, don’t keep it to yourself. Book a session with one of Inkblot’s therapists and feel better. Remember – you are not alone. It’s easy to make an appointment with a therapist tailored to your individual needs. Sessions are available as soon as today.