How Does Loneliness Affect Mental Health?

The holidays are traditionally viewed as a time of cheer, happy memories and togetherness. It can feel strange, then, when we experience loneliness during the upcoming season. Even if we’re surrounded by others, we can feel isolated, making us wonder if something is wrong with us.

If you feel alone during the holidays and it has impacted your mental health, you’re not the only one. Many people feel left out of gatherings, grieve loved ones, miss those who feel far away or feel emotionally distant from those they’re near. 

In this article, we’ll look at loneliness during the holidays and what you can do to combat isolation.

Loneliness during the holidays

A study from the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that 36 percent of all Americans feel lonely, a statistic that has increased since the pandemic. While many people experience loneliness year-round, the holidays can exacerbate the sense that we are on our own.

There are numerous reasons that the festivities of this month can highlight the feeling of loneliness. For one, our perception of Christmas and other holidays that we soak up from social media, television and movies is that we’ll always be surrounded by happy family and friends.

We may also expect a sense of closeness with family and friends. 

When we’re let down and relationships aren’t as smooth or enjoyable as we anticipate, it can contribute to feeling alone. When our reality doesn’t match up with our expectations, we can feel the hardship of loneliness even more profoundly. 

Others may experience loneliness due to physical distance from loved ones. Travel may be too inconvenient or expensive, preventing people from seeing family who lives out of state or out of the country. For those who have relocated, it may be hard to find a community to gather with as well.

Loneliness during the holidays is especially common for those who have lost a loved one. Whether the passing was recent, occurred around the holidays or happened over a decade ago, the pain of grief can hit hard during special celebrations.

How does loneliness affect mental health?

There are numerous causes for loneliness during the holidays, and the feeling of being alone can have a huge impact on a person’s mental wellbeing. Loneliness and depression, as well as other mental health disorders, can be an overwhelming combination, and difficult to manage in this season.

Loneliness can affect mental health in various ways. First, loneliness over an extended period of time, social isolation, a lack of support and no stable community or family relations can be major factors for the onset of a mental health disorder. Moreover, existing mental health conditions can be worsened by loneliness.

If you have a diagnosed mental illness, loneliness can provoke symptoms of your condition. If you struggle with mental health, the following symptoms can be caused or worsened by loneliness.

  • Down mood
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Low energy level
  • Feeling numb or apathetic
  • Decreased participation in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Decreased appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Persistent sadness
  • Negative thinking patterns
  • Poor coping (including substance abuse)
  • Suicidal thinking

If you struggle with depression and loneliness and have been thinking about harming yourself or someone else, it’s time to get help. Call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or reach out to Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling to access professional care.

How to manage loneliness during the holidays

Living with loneliness during the holidays can take a toll. Once you know the cause of your loneliness and have assessed how it’s impacted your mental health, you can take steps to reverse the damage of feeling alone. Here’s how.

Change up your expectations

Our society imposes unattainable standards for the holidays, so one of the best ways to prevent feeling down around the holidays is to redesign your expectations of the season. Identify reasonable standards, like attending one or two events instead of anticipating a party invite every night.

Focus on what you enjoy

Whether our traditions are self-imposed or expected of us by others, it’s important to determine which parts of the holiday are meaningful to you. 

Focus on prioritizing the things that matter most and finding a way to make them work. Desperate to partake in a gift exchange? Reach out to others through a community center or a local meet-up. Eager to attend a religious celebration with someone? Your local place of worship would be happy to introduce you to a regular attendee.

Connect with those in your circle

No one lives in complete isolation, and even if you don’t feel close to those around you there are still ways to build community this time of year. Consider inviting over coworkers or neighbors for celebrations, and remember that you can always reach out to loved ones virtually if visiting is impossible.

Reach out for help

The best way to combat loneliness and depression during the upcoming month is to reach out for help. Counseling can be beneficial year-round, but in this season it is especially important to care for yourself and manage loneliness. 

Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling can help. Reach out and get the services you need.