As the year closes out, between pumpkin-spiced everything and aggressive holiday marketing tactics, I’ve found the holidays to not only be intensely overwhelming, but also extremely lonely. I’m sure I’m not the only one who spends hours sitting alone, staring at the window in a state of mild, inexplicable depression. It’s that level of heightened sensitivity when even a simple shadow dancing upon the windowpane seems tragic and vulnerable, resonating to the very core of your humanity.
It’s dramatic I know… yet undeniable.
The hustle and bustle, the cheerful vibes, and the cinematic opportunities can be a lot to take in as the same four songs seem to play at every grocery store, coffee shop, and shopping mall. It’s an atmosphere warm and comforting, unless you’re one of us who feels like an outsider watching in.
Every weekend seems to be a visual opportunity for the non-dysfunctional families and Instagram-perfect couples to show their photogenic holiday bliss. Their large feasts, cozy sweaters, and warm fires seem to magnify the cold and loneliness as I sit on my front steps and watch the golden leaves slowly drift down to the sidewalk.
Why is it during the holidays, when we’re supposed to be the most happy and filled with goodwill, that we tend to feel the loneliest? There may actually be a few logical explanations…
As the temperature drops outside, it’s harder to move around and get vitamin D, two factors that can highly impact our mood. Movement, tied to our body’s abilities to produce endorphins, tends to slow down during all the commotion.
If we’re single it feels almost hopeless to be bombarded by every movie and book telling us it’s time to stay at home and cuddle. It doesn’t help that nostalgia tends to creep in during these cold months, and that memory has a sneaky way of painting the past to be perfect.
And then there’s the whole relative ordeal. As others excitedly chatter about how they’re going home to visit their supportive family and hip relatives, you know you’ll be having the same annual conversations with your grandma about your weight, your horrible lifestyle, and your less-than-lucrative job.
You might be surprised to find that not only are Americans getting more lonely by the generation, but loneliness is so damaging on the body that “it has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity,” reports a 2018 study conducted by Cigna.
So what do we do? Where do we go from that soul-draining sadness? And why should we try to fix it?
Over the years I’ve found a few ways to to find joy and hope during these sometimes bleak, but very festive months. I’ve learned that my own loneliness usually comes from a desire to feel a sense of belonging, a yearning to be a part of that happy couple, to be in that perfect family. It’s important to remember that things look very different from afar than they do up close. That couple has their own issues and the grandma in that perfect family probably asks her grandchildren about their weight, too.
This year, tap into your roots. Try to get to know your relatives with fresh eyes. It’s easy to cringe when Aunt Barb asks if you’re still single, but if you can go beyond her outdated ideas of romance, you might find she has a thing or two to teach you.
Generational and political differences can cause riffs and awkward tension during family functions, but if you look past these differences, you’ll find strings of human emotion that transcend any obstacle.
Ask Aunt Barb about the time she traveled to India back in college. Listen to the music your little cousin is currently obsessed with — even if the “singer” has a face full of tattoos.
Not going home for the holidays? Find ways to create meaningful interaction with those around you and with your city. The previously mentioned Cigna study found that those who have face-to-face interactions have lower rates of loneliness.
Take a walk through the park with a beautiful soundtrack playing in your earphones. Join the old folks doing tai chi around the corner. Create a challenge with your housemates to live a zero-waste lifestyle. Host a Friendsgiving and invite some people you don’t know too well. Put the phone away and create intentional conversations. Begin a holiday movie marathon with the girls from the office. Start going to yoga class, or commit to a runner’s group or basketball league. Find movement that is good for your body and healing for your soul. Reach out to those you feel a connection with and get to know them a little better over coffee or a game of chess.
So often the holidays remind us of the community we’re lacking, but we easily forget that community takes energy to build. Before the year ends, dedicate yourself to finding a circle to invest in. If you can’t find one, create one. When we pour into our community, our community pours back into us.
If you feel lonely during this holiday season, know that you aren’t alone. You can be a Grinch, hate consumerism, and still enjoy the camaraderie that comes with the holly jolly.
Based out of Los Angeles, Iona Brannon is a writer and photojournalist who deeply enjoys hearing the stories of others and drawing out the beauty of the mundane. Her hobbies include sitting in LA traffic and occasionally yelling at other drivers. You can see her work and connect with her at ionabrannon.com.