Here’s what’s behind your holiday blues — and how to deal with loneliness this winter.

Have you ever felt lonely in a room full of people?

Feeling disconnected at the long-awaited reunion?

Are you baffled by meaningful connections?

Well, you are not alone. And chances are, if you — or someone you care about — suffers from this feeling, it can get worse during the holiday season, when what one needs may not be available and the disappointment can be overwhelming.

Loneliness has become an epidemic, and the isolation we all endured during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated it, especially for women.

Don’t ignore the warning signs of loneliness. We are forced to experience loneliness as a “signal” that one needs a more meaningful connection to others or to our community. It’s healthy to recognize loneliness and work to resolve it. While everyone feels lonely sometimes, chronic loneliness is more than just a bout of sadness — it can have real consequences for your health. New research shows how loneliness can shorten your life by more than a year and a half. One amazing analysis showed that feeling lonely can have the same effect on your body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It has also been linked to depression, dementia, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Difficulty communicating with others, including on a more intimate level.
  • Feeling of not having close or close friends.
  • Feeling isolated or alienated no matter where you are or who you are with.
  • Negative feelings of self-doubt or self-worth.
  • Feeling overwhelmed when trying to engage with others.

There is ample evidence that Americans are getting lonely: pervasive loneliness is becoming a modern-day problem. We often associate loneliness with old age, but it can affect people of all ages. While nearly half of adults over the age of 80 experience loneliness, 71 percent of teens and young adults are affected as well. Contrary to today’s estimates, in the 1970s only 11 percent of people reported feeling lonely.

Public health experts, like me, are developing new prevention strategies, including large-scale policy and program interventions, and creating ways to measure loneliness.

Until then, there are small yet effective ways to tackle loneliness in ourselves and the people we care about:

Understand why you feel lonely

Being alone in a room full of people or while you’re busy taking care of your kids is just one type of loneliness. The late and influential scientist Dr. John Cacioppo and Louise Hockley and their teams identified three different categories:

  • Intimate loneliness, the lack of an intimate relationship with another person.
  • Collective loneliness, the feeling of not having a place in the wider community.
  • Loneliness in relationships, lack of good friendships and family relationships.

Determining why you feel lonely can help you plan your path for guidance or help. Also try to determine if you are lonely or isolated.

People who experience loneliness—described as an objective feeling of pain due to unmet needs for meaningful and fulfilling connection with others—report a painful gap between their actual and desired relationships.

Social isolation is a measure of social interactions and lack of physical contact with other people. While they can be somewhat related, they do not always occur together, and the solutions may be different.

Make a decision to volunteer next year

Isolation and not achieving human connection can be gateways to loneliness. What is the best way to connect with others through a common goal or passion?

In a study of 10,000 volunteers in Britain, nearly two-thirds agreed that volunteering helped them feel less isolated, especially those between the ages of 18 and 34. Volunteering can fill your heart and your calendar, and make a useful bridge to others who have common interests. And the science backs it up: When you volunteer, your brain releases dopamine, which is the same chemical that gives you the pleasure and euphoria you feel after a vigorous workout.

One example is the Experience Corps program, which I co-founded and co-designed, and places teams of older volunteers in high-impact roles in public elementary schools to help improve children’s academic success. Eldera also brings generations together online, with elders befriending and mentoring children, with permission from their parents.

Communicate with others

There are countless ways to initiate connections with others to help relieve loneliness (there’s nothing quite like a cup of coffee and great conversation). Technology has made it possible to make this connection virtually anywhere in the world.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling soft for a traditional holiday experience, you might have great fun writing a holiday card to a distant friend or someone you’ve lost touch with. You can start the new year by signing up for a new club, for example expanding your passions and friends and acquaintances into a book club, walking choir or pickleball group. Find public places to read a book – you may still feel lonely, but you will feel less isolated.

Consider getting a pet

It’s no doubt a big commitment, but there is evidence that pet owners were 36 percent less likely than non-pet owners to report feeling lonely. Spending time with a pet can release endorphins, which reduce stress levels. Cats can be great companions in your home, and dogs can serve that purpose and get you outside where you can meet people.

Before you take this step, be honest with yourself about how much time, energy, and commitment you’re willing to make. Dog sitting or borrowing a pet for a walk may be a more realistic — but also effective — option. Also consider adopting an older pet—they usually require less rigorous training and are forever grateful.

Locate local support services

As public health experts become more involved with the loneliness epidemic, many programs are being created in local communities. It can be very useful to you or someone you care about. For example, in Montreal there is a call center program with volunteers trained to listen to lonely people. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers recently declared November 13-19 as Social Isolation and Loneliness Awareness Week in the state to introduce new initiatives.

Open your door to people who will be alone

Think tender friends. Create a holiday with others who are likely to be alone or invite someone to join your family’s holiday tradition. They will enjoy the festivities and you will give them an unforgettable holiday gift.

Be good to yourself

During the holiday season, we often mourn the people we’ve lost and the traditions we celebrated with them. As difficult as it may sound, try to create your own traditions. Christmas morning helping out in the food kitchen. Thanksgiving eve massage. Favorite movie. stroll every day. Give someone or yourself the gift of a class to learn a new skill. It’s a great place to meet people and your new talent will give you the gift of satisfaction. Remember, be kind to yourself. Practice self-care. you deserve it.

Talk to a therapist

If you are anticipating a difficult holiday season, get ahead of it and try to see a therapist or doctor in advance. If this is not possible, trust a friend or family member. At best, you will be given strategies to help yourself; At the very least, by sharing your fears, you will definitely feel less alone.

Go to the office

We are used to our remote and virtual lives. If you have an office to go to, get dressed and go in. You might be surprised at the office camaraderie that many of us took for granted and now miss. Remote work can be isolating, and being in the office means being around people.

Expand your friendships across generations

Socializing with new friends who are older or younger than you can add richness and variety to your relationships. Also consider innovative co-housing opportunities, such as renting an extra room to a college student. United Generations has established such programmes.

Remember, if you are lonely, you are not alone. There are resources and experts that can help.

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