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Holidays: Happy or Sad? The SeniorScape™

Holidays are typically celebrated with joy, laughter, and togetherness. But for many people they also represent sadness and loneliness. It may be sadness from loss of a loved one, separation from those we love and care about, whether family or friends.

Others still don’t have anyone to share the holidays with, even from a distance. For others it may be just an overall feeling of loneliness.

Since March 2020 and the pandemic, conversations around isolation and loneliness were front and center. Not only for older adults who lived in the community or those who lived in nursing homes, but for most of us who were advised to keep our distance from those we loved and cared about. Most people were terrified to be near others and so, the holidays became isolating experiences. Loneliness became an almost universal topic of conversation for people of all ages.

As the pandemic has subsided, in fact almost dissipated, families have resumed their usual joyous holiday celebrations. However, that is not to say that we should forget that many among us continue to be isolated and suffering from loneliness.

I recently spoke with a young fellow who moved to a new urban type of apartment living

that encourages community. He described the many events that bring people together but, the way he referred to the apartment dwellers who lived in the environment were jarring.

He said he guessed it was okay for people who were pathetic and didn’t have any friends. I explained that many people could be far away from friends or loved ones, or may have experienced loss for one reason or another, even for a personal or lifestyle choice which met with family disapproval. Though I didn’t go into detail, this was something I experienced in my own life. Thus, his words cut me to my core.

My family disapproved of my choice for marriage, and as a result, cut me off from everyone I cared about, loved, and knew for most of my life. While I embarked on building my own family, there was an emptiness and loneliness that lived inside me for many years. An emptiness and loneliness that I don’t think I was aware for most of my life. An emptiness and loneliness that probably was not outwardly apparent. Once I became aware of my own inner loneliness I realized the importance of connection. I've used it to fuel what has become a collaborative spirit and desire to

connect people, both in personal and professional relationships. I believe If we are feeling the pain of loneliness, in all likelihood we're not fully connected with ourselves, and therefore, cannot be fully connected with others.

Outside of the pandemic experience, have any of you reading this ever experienced isolation or loneliness? This is very different than being alone, which whether or not by choice, can be satisfying and a time for introspection, reflection, and even provide opportunities for intense creativity.

Loneliness can not only be crippling, it literally can be a killer. It is not confined to

expectations around the holidays to be with family and friends, sharing in laughter and joy.

A person can be feeling loneliness in small gatherings of family and friends as well as large crowds Feelings of loneliness can conjure up feelings of worthlessness, shame, and despair. This leads to more negativity about how a person views themselves, and reflects in inner self talk, whether or or not it's realized. It’s like a subliminal tape constantly playing in the background.

Beyond the negative self-talk, loneliness can manifest in several ways. In extreme forms it can result in decline in physical well-being.

It is not uncommon for a person feeling lonely to try and drown it away in one form or another: imbibe with alcohol, self-satisfy with comfort or favorite foods. But these are temporary band aids to a much deeper issue and, ultimately, do not take away the pain.

Rather than reach for bandaids that only mask the issues, this may be a good time to begin to become more compassionate towards yourself and acceptance of your emotions.

If you are anyone you know may be feeling lonely, consider this execise.

Rather than engaging in self-criticism, treat yourself as you would a friend who was telling you how they were feeling. You may want to write out the scenario, and then read back the words you would say to your friend to yourself, using your own name as you speak. Think about how you are trying to make your friend feel better about themselves, and then try to reflect on those same feelings for yourself. In other words, treat yourself as your own friend.

During the holiday season when we are consumed with the hustling and bustling of gift buying and gift giving, we can easily become self absorbed with our own preparations, family and friends, and forget about others who are alone, and lonely.

So this holiday season, I challenge you to think of times when you were feeling lonely.

Remember how you felt at those times and what could or would have helped you.

In doing so, consider reaching out to someone who you think may be feeling lonely.

Small acts of kindness can go a long way in helping someone who feels lonely. Knowing someone thinks or cares enough about them to spend some time to bring light into their life, share a warm smile, offer a helping hand, or deliver their favorite food.

Wishing you contentment and kindness during this holiday season.

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