In a recent AARP survey, 31 percent of respondents said they had felt lonely during the holiday season sometime during the past five years, and 41 percent reported they had worried about a family member or friend feeling lonely during the holidays.
“Feelings of isolation and loneliness are a major cause of stress for people during the holiday season,” Dr. Brad says. Other major causes of holiday stress include:
- Family drama and dysfunction.
- Pushing ourselves too hard and trying to get too much done.
- Having unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others.
- Abandoning healthy habits we maintain during the rest of the year.
A major underlying cause of loneliness, Dr. Brad says, are “Trapped Emotions” – unresolved feelings from past difficult and traumatic events that we can’t seem to shake.
“When an emotion becomes trapped, a person might be more likely to feel that emotion in circumstances similar to the one that created the emotion in the first place,” he says.
When the events that trigger these emotions occurred around the holidays, they can be like “Ghosts of Christmas Past” that return each year, keeping people feeling stuck when they might otherwise feel happy. However, there are steps people can take to fend off loneliness. Here are a few suggestions from Dr. Brad:
- Reach Out! One way we can avoid isolation and loneliness during the holidays is to reach out in our own communities around us. Volunteer to help the needy. Invite someone who is lonely to share the holidays with you.
- Plan a “Friendsgiving.” If you’re single, join a group of other singles and have a potluck where you can focus on creating new friends and “family” instead of mourning your lack thereof. Spend the holidays with friends and let them be your family.
- Be flexible about your expectations. Everyone else has expectations and sometimes they won’t match with yours. Plan for spontaneity. If you allow the plans that others have to be a part of what brings you joy, you’ll have more fun.
- Take care of yourself emotionally. You may need specific things such as the emotional support of a spouse, a lunch date with a friend, or even just some time alone. Decide how busy you want to be or not be. Say “no” to trying to do too much if it feels like it’ll cause too much stress for you.
- Communicate with love. If you’re feeling stressed about family interactions, go outside for a few minutes to get some fresh air. Be kind to everyone, including yourself. Give hugs. Make sure you’re not overreacting. None of us communicate perfectly, so try to see what others really mean, not just what they say. Give them the benefit of the doubt because it’s likely no offense was meant. Ask for clarification and react appropriately, with kindness, love, and forgiveness. Some people really don’t have a handle on their behavior but it doesn’t have to affect your own feelings or be your problem.
“Most importantly, take steps to release your own emotional baggage,” Dr. Brad says. “In many years of practice and teaching, I have seen lives changed, broken hearts healed, and relationships restored when people free themselves from the burdens of the past.”