How to Prevent Isolation During the Holidays
With the coming cooler weather, we’re heading into the holiday season: stuffing, football, presents, thanks, turkey, gatherings, celebrations, renewal, and pumpkin spice everything. The holidays can be a great time to catch up with loved ones and to take stock of the connections that add meaning and joy to our lives. Many of us look forward to the holidays, but there are also many of us for whom the holidays can be a struggle.
According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), at least 31% of people over the age of 50 feel lonely during the holidays, and 41% express concern about the loneliness of a friend or family member.
Social connections are important for all ages to thrive, but can be especially important for older adults. For various reasons, from immobility, to retirement, to changes in day-to-day lifestyle, it can be difficult to maintain social connections. Unfortunately, the holidays can bring the loss of these connections to light. While many people experience feelings of joy during the holidays, this time of year can also increase feelings of isolation and exacerbate the sense of loneliness that can come from a lack of social connections.
Strong social connections have been shown to improve mood, and help maintain mobility and independence, while lowering chances of mental disabilities. Here are some ways you can prevent isolation during the holidays.
Social Isolation Warning Signs
It’s important to recognize the warning signs that indicate when someone might be dealing with social isolation. Keep an eye out for these common signs in your friends, family members, and yourself:
Altered sleep habits
Loss of appetite
Changes in personal appearance
Decrease in hygiene
Increases in shopping
Taking frequent showers/baths
The cause for these changes can depend on the circumstance and person. They may even seem understandable and reasonable (maybe they say it’s the change in weather or they’ve just been a bit tired). However, be especially conscious if you see multiple signs building up, or if there’s a certain level of fear of going out, or disinterest and despondency driving these warning signs.
Reach out if you see these signs in yourself or in others. Whether you're caring for a loved one, or you are the person struggling. Ask for help.
Make Community a Priority
With modern technologies, it can be easy to slip into habitual patterns of isolation without even noticing. It’s important to make a pointed effort to see people in person, have conversations, and share meals or a cup of coffee. Keep a standing date with friends or family members to see each other on a regular basis. It can be anything, a movie night, a walk, or volunteering.
If you're concerned about a loved one, encourage them to make an effort to see people in person. You can also reach out to community members, asking them to engage in activities and conversations with the person feeling isolated.
Remember that social interaction looks different for each of us. Some of us like to have engaging conversations, some of us just like the company of others, even though we may not be big talkers. What’s important is that you’re sharing connection and community with people, in whatever way that works for you.
Join Groups and Clubs
A great way to build connections is by joining a club or group. By joining clubs or groups that pique your interests (dancing, books, crafts, baking/cooking, sewing, walking, etc.), you naturally stay active and engaged with others. For those of us caring for a senior, work with them to help them stay active and engaged with people by finding something that captivates their curiosities, passions, and enthusiasm. Or, help them start their own group!
There are groups and clubs for all levels of engagement and experience in all sorts of activities, hobbies, and interests. You can often find information on these various groups at community centers, senior centers, or online.
Be proactive during the holidays. This can be a hectic time of year, and there can be a lot of things going on. If you’re worried about being lost in the fray, take ownership over your holiday plans. Make plans with your family or friends, help plan meals with your favorite foods, and make a list of who you’d like to see and/or speak with during the holidays.
Sometimes, we just wait for plans to happen to us, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Pick up the phone or send a quick text. Kids going out of town for the holidays? Call a friend and make plans with them. And this goes both ways. Do you know a friend who might be alone for the holidays? Invite them to your plans. Maybe there are a few of you who might be alone for the holidays? Start a group chat and plan a potluck — decorate, exchange small gifts, have fun with it!
Don’t be afraid to initiate these plans. There’s a good chance there are others who will appreciate your efforts, they may even be thinking the same thing, but just need a little show of solidarity.
Share Your Needs
It sounds silly, but for many of us, one of the most difficult things can be expressing our needs. We don’t want to feel needy or admit that we need help. But consider how you feel when the ones you care about struggle silently without saying a word to you. The first thing we usually wonder is, why didn’t you say anything?
Be honest and open about what you may be struggling with or what might help bring you joy during this time of year. It can help strengthen the bonds that tie us and make you feel more connected to the people with whom you’re closest, and them to you. The distances we experience can be a two-way street, and all it takes is one person to reach out first. As with making plans, don’t be afraid to make the first move, and don’t be afraid to share your needs when someone asks. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is human, and being vulnerable requires strength.
Click here to view an infographic about avoiding isolation this holiday season.