By Leah Harris
If you’re feeling lonely during the holidays, you’re not alone, and this simple practice might help
Americans are said to suffer from an epidemic of loneliness, which can be amplified during the holiday season with its emphasis on family gatherings and making merry. If you experience more sadness or loneliness during the holidays, it may feel like a small consolation, but you’re far from alone.
According to a recent survey, 61% of Americans believed they would experience feelings of loneliness or sadness over the holidays. 37% said they would skip the holidays altogether if they could, the main reasons being financial stress and social expectations of gift-giving. And 22% responded that turned to substance use over the holidays to cope with their difficult emotions. Among those who anticipated feeling sad during the holiday, the most common response was that they were grieving the loss of a loved one.
The holiday blues do not descend equally on all. Trauma survivors may have an especially difficult time. Loneliness and blues may be felt more keenly among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color experiencing the ongoing trauma of racial inequality and social injustice in America, as well as LGBTQ+ people who may be unwelcome among their families of origin, or feel they must hide their gender or sexuality at family gatherings. Younger people--73% of Gen Z and 65% of Millennials--were also more likely to expect the blues during this season.
Social connection is a powerful antidote to loneliness, grief, and addiction. For some people, it may be therapy, peer support, or recovery meetings. Another type of social connection less discussed is engaging in small acts of kindness for others. Chinese researchers studied people who performed altruistic acts, and found evidence of an “immediate internal reward.” An American study found that acts of kindness promoted social connection and were even more beneficial than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. While the emphasis during the holiday season is often on material gift-giving, acts of kindness do not have to cost anything. They can be as simple as texting someone we haven’t talked to in a while, calling someone who has suffered a loss this year, giving up our seat on the bus, or letting someone else go ahead of us in line.
“Engaging in charitable acts will undoubtedly help others, but it also helps you in the long run,” writes Dr. Allycin Powell in Black Love. “It helps us realize that we aren’t alone in suffering and that there are systematic and sometimes tiny steps that can help us and others get back on our feet.” As with all things, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to coping with and alleviating loneliness and grief during the holidays. But performing some small acts of kindness might go a long way to making the holidays a little less blue.
Resources for further exploration:
Leah Harris is a non-binary, queer, neurodivergent, disabled Jewish writer, facilitator, and organizer working in the service of truth-telling, justice-doing, and liberation. They’ve had work published in the New York Times, CNN, and Pacific Standard. You can learn more about their work at their website and follow them on Instagram.