By: Sandra Holmes, Ph.D.
Director of Outpatient Services, Behavioral Health
Have you ever wondered why NMMC uses the slogan “What connected feels like”? For most people feeling connected is a positive feeling. To feel like someone “gets you,” understands and cares for you, means a lot. When we think about the word loneliness, it can describe a feeling of disconnect. One may have feelings of loneliness when no one else is present or when in the midst of a crowded room. Social, emotional, mental and environmental factors may contribute to loneliness. Loneliness is associated with an increase of several health problems including cardiovascular disease, stroke, cognitive decline and premature death. Thirty-five percent of adults age 45 and older report being lonely.
The holidays are quite often associated with feelings of loneliness and sadness/grief. Holidays do not always come packaged like a Hallmark movie or “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Often people might be experiencing change to their traditions due to the loss of a loved one, changes in relationships that may have occurred through the year and/ or perhaps changes in their socioeconomic status.
Researchers have speculated that this year, 2020, with COVID-19, “slow the spread’ and “stay at home” orders in place, that loneliness would increase. However, the findings revealed this was not the case. A study of 1,545 survey participants ages 18-98 showed no significant change in loneliness when surveyed on four occasions from January 2020 through April 2020. Surprisingly, many reported feeling an increase in support during the time. This speaks to our resilience during difficult times and perhaps has lessons that we can learn from as we go into the Christmas and New Year’s season. One might speculate was this due to people working to be more intentional about connecting and showing support?
While we can all work to be more intentional about how we connect with others, we can also implement our own behavioral methods to combat personal feelings of loneliness.
Following are a few tips:
- Be realistic about your expectations.
- Allow yourself to feel what you need to feel without letting it consume you. Own your feelings but do not allow them to own you.
- Use tools that are at your disposal to connect with others—whether it is a phone call, text, Facetime, Zoom.
- Take care of your needs and express your needs to others when appropriate.
- Develop an attitude of gratitude. Look around and note people and things you are grateful for.
- Volunteer and focus on giving to others.
- Read a good book, watch a good movie, learn something new.
It is OK to experience loneliness for awhile but choose not to live with it. If it is ongoing, reach out to a mental health professional and learn some new skills and behaviors to help move forward.