What makes the holidays difficult for so many? Some of the holiday stress has to do with unrealistic expectations and the commercialism that we’ve become accustomed to over the years. Unfortunately, it’s more about finding the perfect gift, decorating the exquisite tree, cooking the most delicious meal, and making sure that everyone is included. We try so hard to have the “Norman Rockwell” holiday experience but in the process lose sight of the meaning behind the celebration and the significance of our relationships. We should instead focus on spending time with the people we love and care about. Sadly, some people don’t have connections with others and feel especially socially isolated at this time of the year.
A recent study done at the University of Chicago found that loneliness can cause health problems and increase the risk of premature death by 14 percent. Ultimately, loneliness triggers physiological responses that make us ill. Specifically, the study showed that lonely people had a less effective immune response and increased fight-or flight stress signal leading to adverse health outcomes. The leading loneliness expert John Cacioppo concluded that loneliness is more than a feeling and can be a major health risk. This time of year can intensify our feelings of loneliness since we tend to reminisce about the times when we were surrounded by our family or friends. Some feel lonely even when they are around others because they lack a healthy or positive connection and remain detached.
The simple answer to this problem would be to surround yourself with people and get more socially active. Although really not so simple as this may require you to push beyond your comfort zone and initiate contact and connection even when it would easier to stay home. Sometimes joining a group, organization, taking a class, or volunteering can be ways to make connections and meet new people. Confronting our fears and anxieties may be necessary to make connections, but the rewards are many. As the study suggests, battling loneliness can improve our physical health. In some cases, we may benefit from professional help since loneliness and depression are first cousins and often keep people immobilized. Choose to be connected this holiday season and make the effort to reach out to those around you. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, joy comes from people not things.