Originally posted at Beacon Lens The holidays are upon us, and the irony they bring is the potential for isolation and loneliness. Holidays’ essential identity is getting together with loved ones, but some people do not feel as connected as they would like or expect. In 2020, add COVID-19 and its quarantining dictates, and the potential for such feelings can strengthen. The holidays, therefore, present an excellent time to discuss how we can reinforce connections during a time that requires us to be apart to protect our physical health, a requirement that paradoxically can have a damaging effect on our mental health. We can, however, take charge of improving our mental health.
Loneliness and isolation and our healthWhat is the difference between loneliness and isolation? “Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Social isolation, on the other hand, is a lack of social connections. Put differently, one can have many social connections but still feel lonely. The physical and mental health risks of loneliness and isolation are significant. They include but are not limited to:
- Social isolation increases the risk of premature death by 29 percent, rivalling smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.
- Social isolation is associated with increasing the risk for dementia by approximately 50 percent.
- Loneliness is connected to higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
Simple steps for better mental health during the holidaysSpecific to the season and the times, there are common-sense tips that we all can practice to help manage loneliness. For example:
- Talk to someone about your sense of loneliness and isolation. There’s stigma around loneliness so it can be hard to do. However, you may well find that you’re not alone in those feelings, and sharing them can help lessen their effect.
- Manage your holiday/COVID-19 expectations. The holidays can fall short of expectations, but this year it may be worse. Understand that the pandemic won’t last forever, and that we’re all in this together. Indeed, many people’s holiday gatherings will likely be different this year.
- Remember to take care of yourself, now more than ever. Sleep, exercise and good nutrition — with the proper amount of holiday indulgence — go a long way in addressing mental health.
- Avoid social media, such as Facebook or Instagram, especially during the holidays. It’s easy to negatively compare one’s life to the “perfect” lives posted on social media, forgetting that people mostly post only the positive.