Since 51 percent of people over 75 live alone, the holidays are a lonely time for many people. AARP says that number adds up to 15 million people in the U.S., including 27 percent over 65. And of these, 26 percent face an increased risk of death due to subjective feeling of loneliness.
Loneliness is common during the holidays for a variety of ages due to living away from family and those who feel it the most are empty nesters, the elderly and individuals who are grieving — the loss of a loved one.
The holidays create high expectations which puts pressure to be happy and socially connected, which isn’t the case for everyone. Not all individuals have the perfect family.
If you are lonely during the holidays, here are ways to prepare for the season.
—The best way to deal with loneliness is to seek company. Go to church, or a place of worship. Volunteer to deliver food for Meals on Wheels and spend time with those unable to leave their home.
—Share how you feel with friends. Invite a family member or friend who lives far away for a Skype or FaceTime call. Share a meal using the app by both eating at the same time while visiting.
—Honor your feelings and don’t feel guilty about them. Be honest with the people you trust, and tell them you’re feeling lonely.
—Practice self-care. Get out of the house and attend an event that involves people. Having a plan in place will decrease expectations of loneliness. Take time for decorating, reflecting, relaxing, and reading.
—Have realistic expectations. Avoid expecting things to be good or bad.
Other ways to ward off loneliness are, go see a movie, visit the sick in hospitals, call a nursing home or the Red Cross and ask how you can help, call the senior center to find out who else will be alone and plan to do something with them, or help feed and visit the sheltered animals.
Whatever you do, don’t dwell on being alone.
Considering that people are living longer and married couples have less children, you realize that this issue of being alone will continue. It’s best to be prepared for the inevitable.
Besides, loneliness is something we all experience from time to time. It’s not always rational. For example, it’s possible to feel more disconnected from others in the middle of a Christmas party than you do by yourself at home with a good book. But no matter where or when the holiday blues strike, remember that you’re not alone. Try to keep realistic expectations, take care of yourself, and make a little effort to connect with others in the same boat.
Carol Marak is an aging advocate, syndicated columnist and editor at Seniorcare.com. She earned the Fundamentals of Gerontology Certificate from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.