We know there is a lot of pressure on people to enjoy themselves during the holidays. The season is supposed to be merry and bright, but many can feel increasingly isolated and unhappy this time of year.
Knowing how to juggle the holidays can be challenging, especially as the coronavirus pandemic looms overhead. Do what you can to get involved and get into the holiday spirit without stressing yourself beyond your limits or risking anyone’s health. If you put too much on your plate, neither you nor your loved ones will likely enjoy the festivities nearly as much. Remember that most families are facing difficult decisions and holiday celebrations are bound to look very different this year. Get creative and remember: your best efforts are good enough.
Isolation makes the holidays hard. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, older adults who are socially isolated are at higher risk for depression. The focus on family, friends and togetherness can bring melancholy feelings to the forefront during this time of year. With coronavirus cases ramping up, it’s more important than ever to be supportive of, and attentive to, our loved ones, but in ways that keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible. This problematic situation poses serious challenges for families across the country and around the world.
If you or a loved one, friend or neighbor feel lonely or depressed, there are steps that you can take to help lift spirits. Remind yourself what the holiday season is truly about. Simplifying some things will allow you to focus on what really matters: the important people in your life.
With more of us forced to celebrate the holidays alone, I’ve assembled this list of suggestions for how to feel more connected during the holidays. I hope you can use some of them to brighten up your winter season.
1. It’s not just about you — reach out to others. Some older adults may go days without speaking to anyone, especially those in poor health or who have limited mobility or transportation options. Connecting with them can make you feel better too.
2. Make phone calls. Dial-up someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time. The chances are they would welcome a conversation. Make a point of actively listening to what they have to say. Find out what’s going on with them and their families. The call may lift their spirits and yours as well. Then keep the communication going in the new year by setting 15-30 minutes aside once a week to talk. Emails are a great way to stay in touch too.
3. Listen to them.
Even if the discussion is negative, an honest and empathetic conversation can help someone who might feel distressed. If you know of someone in need, encourage their friends or family members to reach out to them as well. When you help others, you help yourself.
4. Share your feelings. Be honest with the people you trust, and tell them you’re feeling lonely. Divulging these feelings is a vulnerable and daring act — which most people will appreciate. They’ll want to help.
5. Ask for what you need. Sometimes we hope others can read our minds, and we can become disappointed and feel disconnected and lonely when our needs are not met. It’s important to clearly communicate your needs to others. For instance, you might ask your spouse to give you a hug or your child to make your favorite dessert.
6. Remember that you can do some things. Is there a hobby that you used to enjoy, but you don’t do anymore? Maybe it’s time to revive it or try something new. Do what you are capable of, and if you can, do something for someone else. Perfect your skills and look toward the future when you are able to share your time and talents with others.
7. Send cards. I love to receive cards in the mail. When my mother passed away, we found that she had saved several years’ worth of holiday and birthday cards that we had all sent her.
My family started a tradition of resending these cards. It’s really fun to receive a card that has been in the hands of my brothers and sisters in many states and read what was going on with them at the time.
This form of “recycling” has caused a lot of laughter in my family. Some of the cards have been sent five or six times until there is no more room to write in them.
8. Try to simplify your holiday plans to focus on the real meaning of these celebrations. Let others know you are trying to ignore the increasing hype over the food, gifts, decorations and parties to focus on the people and values you cherish. Remind others of the importance of family and friendship and thank them for that.
9. Check with your church or religious organization to see if there is a way you can offer social and/or spiritual support. Just having someone to talk to can go a long way toward relieving depression.
10. Unpack and revive some of your cherished Christmas decorations. I have some that I made when I first moved to Wyoming in 1980 — they are worn and not very pretty, but they bring back great memories.
11. Make plans. A night alone doesn’t have to be a sad occasion. Quite the contrary, make a plan to do something special for yourself. Watch a fun movie or do something that makes you laugh. Genuine laughter creates extreme relaxation. This relaxation affects your hormones. If something makes you laugh, levels of stress hormones drop, and the feel-good chemical dopamine increases.
12. Treat yourself and others. Make traditional baked goods or treats. Make your dining table festive — even if it’s just for yourself.
13. Often the reason for our loneliness and unhappiness roots in our thoughts or mindset. We focus our thoughts on what we don’t have instead of what we do have, making us feel incomplete and unfulfilled. During this joyous season, cure your loneliness by doing the opposite: focus your thoughts on what you do have instead of what you don’t have. Be grateful for all the blessings and opportunities you’ve had this year.
Have a safe, happy and heartfelt holiday season.