According to a January 2020 Loneliness Index survey from the Cigna health company, 61 percent of adults in the United States report they are lonely. That's a seven percent increase from 2018--not to mention a pre-coronavirus lockdown figure. In April, research group SocialPro found that one-third of U.S. adults are feeling lonelier than usual. And now the holiday season has arrived, which is often a major trigger point for anyone prone to feelings of loneliness due to distance or missing someone.
With all those odds stacking up and COVID-19 social distancing likely to challenge some of the more festive and fun-packed gatherings this year, here are some ideas for making your holidays less lonely.
Start a New Tradition: trying something new can stimulate creativity, which is good for mental wellness. If you find yourself more alone than you'd like as the year winds down, spice up the time by eating new foods, watching a new holiday film, or reading a book from a year-end best-of list that catches your eye. Intentionally seeking positive fresh experiences is something you can enjoy with each new winter.
Schedule Some Fun: although extended time off at the holidays lends itself to a freeform calendar, it's also good to schedule a handful of specific fun events if you are fending off loneliness. A strenuous hike to better enjoy the rest that follows? A simple surprise gift safely brought to someone not expecting it? Making a plan creates a goal, and following through leads to the good feeling of accomplishment.
Say Hello: 2020 has taught so many of us how to stay in touch even when we are apart. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, email, text, a phone call--there have never been more ways to connect. In moments of loneliness, consider the benefits of reaching out to someone. From a quick hello or making someone laugh with a comment on social media, to writing a thoughtful thank you note that might be long overdue, the holidays are a perfect time to send warm wishes and build community.
Show Up: sometimes a remedy for loneliness is just seeking involvement and showing up. Even if COVID-19 prevents a lot of traditional in-person events, don't underestimate human ingenuity. There is a wide variety of virtual volunteer opportunities popping up online. You can also Google "virtual holiday party ideas" and consider hosting one of your own. Your presence can be a present to others.
This holiday season, try taking some of these steps toward combating loneliness, and consider stretching them into the New Year. If you ever need support along the way, Centerstone is here to help get you connected with care. You don't have to go it all alone!
Ken Stewart is a licensed Senior Psychological Examiner and Regional Vice President at Centerstone (centerstone.org) overseeing the organization's integrated behavioral health care services in the South Central, Southeast and Upper Cumberland regions of Tennessee.