A Senior's Guide to Navigating Seasonal Solitude

While the anticipation of the holiday season can be a joyous one for some older adults, others may experience a feeling of dread. This can be one of the loneliest times of the year for those who have family who live far away or who have no family at all. Family estrangement or deaths in the family or social circle can have an impact on someone’s mental and emotional health and well-being. There are some ways older adults can seek support and connection and practice self-care to overcome or reduce the impact loneliness can make this time of the year.

Key takeaways:

This year's survey by Value Penguin found that overall, 45% of American Baby Boomers aged 59–77 anticipate feeling lonely or sad over the holidays. This means almost half of older adults don’t expect to feel joy and happiness this season, even though it’s promoted as being the “most wonderful time of the year.” How can older adults cope with potential loneliness this holiday season?

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Acknowledge the loneliness as you age

The first thing you should do is acknowledge the loneliness. Admitting to yourself, first and foremost, is vital to health and well-being. It may be difficult for older adults to admit they are struggling emotionally due to stigma. However, acknowledging or naming an emotion is the first step toward healing.

Contact friends and family to share your feelings and seek some understanding. You may discover you are one of many feeling lonely or discouraged. Opening the conversation with others can help you all arrive at some solutions.

Seeking a support group may be valuable for older adults who often feel lonely this season and year-round. Reviewing expectations and seeking understanding in a group helps you develop strategies and allows you to be with others to provide a sense of community.

You may know others in your circle of friends and connections who could be lonely. Reach out to them to invite them to get together or chat.

Consider virtual connections

Using your computer or other device to make virtual connections during the pandemic became popular. In some cases, that was the only way some people could connect. Even something as simple as a phone call can be helpful.

If you haven’t used digital applications like Zoom, FaceTime, or Facebook Messenger, reach out to your local library or community center to inquire if they have someone who can show you how to set up a virtual call.

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The advantage of seeing someone face-to-face and sharing a conversation is that it will bridge the connection so you can be a part of a celebration you may be unable to attend.

Consider volunteering

Volunteering in a soup kitchen, meal delivery, or just showing someone an act of kindness goes a long way. You may find opportunities to volunteer by contacting a community or faith-based group to lead you in the right direction. You could meet some fantastic people in the process!

A study published in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work showed that older adults who volunteered more than 100 hours per year had a lower risk of experiencing loneliness than those who did not. While you can’t pack in 100 hours over this holiday, it’s an excellent preventative practice to begin.

Create traditions

While you may not be able to see all of your family and friends this year for the holidays, that doesn’t mean you can't uphold established traditions or create new ones. Perhaps baking sugar cookies is something that brings you joy. You could continue this tradition and invite a neighbor to assist you in the preparation. Two people together are not alone.

You could make up gift baskets to send to family or take a food basket to a lonely neighbor or friend. Or, you can go to a nursing home to visit residents and bring them one of those holiday crafts you love to make.

You can make your new traditions based on some random acts of kindness. A survey by the American Psychiatric Association showed that 89% of Americans who showed someone an act of kindness made them feel better. People who received an act of kindness felt better 90% of the time. Reaching out and being kind is worth it!

If movie marathons are your thing, check out some holiday movies where you can curl up on the sofa with hot chocolate and enjoy on your own or with others. Do whatever tradition you have or can create to bring you joy.

Seek community connections

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You may reach out to your local, faith-based, or senior organizations to discover programs they have during the holiday season to gather people together with a common purpose. Whether sharing a meal or participating in a group activity like singing, crafting, or hiking, being with others is a great way to combat loneliness no matter the time of the year. You may make some long-lasting friendships.

Is it depression?

When loneliness moves beyond feeling blue and moves to profound sadness, lack of appetite, and listlessness, depression could be the reason. In the winter months, some people live with seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression due to reduced exposure to sunshine. They can feel mentally healthy most of the year until the winter months.

Both types of depression are physiologically based, meaning it’s your body’s biology, and it’s not your fault. This is when you need to contact your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Is it grief?

If you have lost a loved one recently or in the past, your sense of loneliness could be compounded this time of year from your grief. Grief is a normal response to a loss in your life and is mentally healthy to work through over time. Sometimes, that means talking with a grief counselor or attending a grief support group. The Mayo Clinic has an online grief support group available.

If your grief is long-lasting and causes you to be unable to carry out your day-to-day activities, it could mean you now have depression. Again, contact your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment options.

Practice self-care

Your feelings of loneliness are real this holiday season and may encompass some form of disappointment in others, in situations, or in yourself. The importance of self-care may be the lifeline you need this season. Self-care is a priority! Caring for yourself is not selfish, but taking the time to recharge will improve your health and sense of well-being. Consider some of the following self-care ideas:

  • Gratitude journaling
  • Meditation, yoga, or prayer
  • Enjoy a hobby or discover a new one
  • Go outside for a walk in nature (weather permitting)
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Read a book or listen to an audiobook
  • Listen to music
  • Do something that brings you joy
  • And the list goes on…

If your emotions are more profound than loneliness, you may be dealing with depression. Depression, especially during the holidays, requires immediate attention by contacting your healthcare provider.

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You aren’t alone
Call 911, or call the Mental Health America (MHA) crisis helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The holiday season often promises to be a time of joy and peace on earth, but many older adults may not feel that joy because they are lonely. If you anticipate being one of those people, there are a few ways you can practice intentionality to counteract feelings of loneliness.

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