Could the most magical time of the year be filled with loneliness, anger and stress?
As the holiday season approaches, many conjure up images of gathering and togetherness. The aroma of the holidays with home-cooked meals, harmonious laughter between friends and family and feelings of gratitude pouring out of the mouth, this is the ideal situation.
But for some people, this time of year seems like the opposite. It's a time of stress, emotional turmoil, or intense loneliness that looks nothing like the traditional reunion celebration.
66% of people report feeling lonely during the holidays, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, while 64% of people with mental health problems say the holidays make them worse.
Why are loneliness and emotional distress so common this time of year? Some people may live far away from family, or may not be able to afford to travel to see them. Others may be grieving the loss of loved ones, or navigating strained relationships—and the holidays can serve as a harsh reminder of those losses. And for some, the holiday season brings together families who would rather be apart. Whatever the cause, the impact of the holidays on our mental health can be profound and not positive.
And if your experience this time of year is the opposite of the above, don't forget that your friends, colleagues, or strangers may have a tough time during the holidays.
Understanding and navigating solitude
The problem is that loneliness is killing us - literally. According to the US surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking every day. It can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and even premature death.
Fortunately, there are ways to treat. If you've been feeling lonely this holiday season, the first thing you can do is recognize it and name it.
If you try to resist a feeling, it will usually last longer.
Then, see if you can pinpoint the source of the feeling.
Once you identify the trigger of the emotion, you can try talking to yourself with compassion as if you were talking to a friend. Remind yourself that it's okay to grieve. Tell yourself that comparison is a distraction and put your social media aside. Or remind yourself that you can make investments in the relationship if you really want to change this situation.
Finally, find ways to connect with others in the moment. Have a friend you haven't messaged in a while? Do it!