Even though Christmas brings friends and family together, many people still experience loneliness, which can impact their health. The American Psychological Association reported that one in four Americans experiences loneliness during the holidays. But loneliness isn’t just a seasonal problem. Previous reports found that 35 percent of Americans over the age of 45 feel lonely all-year long.
The elderly are particularly vulnerable to feelings of loneliness during the holidays. As one UK study pointed out, at least five percent of seniors spent 2010 Christmas alone. Caroline Abrahams from Age UK said, “For many people, the festive season is filled with joy and happiness, a magical time to spend with their loved ones. Yet for many older people, Christmas is a thoroughly miserable time that reinforces their feelings of loss and loneliness.”
The UK mental health organization described loneliness as, “not feeling part of the world. You might be surrounded by loads of people, but you are still lonely.” There are numerous reasons why people may feel lonely, from personal circumstances to relationship break-ups or even moving to a new area. Being excluded from social activities can also contribute to loneliness, whether it is due to a lack of funding or even mobility problems.
In older adults, loneliness can increase due to children leaving the house and starting their own families, making visits less and less frequent.
Loneliness has detrimental effects on mental health, including raising the risk of depression and anxiety. One study found that those who experience minimal face-to-face time with others double their risk of depression.
Loneliness is also associated with cognitive decline issues, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and can harm physical health as well.
These tips can help reduce the effects of loneliness and combat being lonely:
- Make contact with friends and family through phone calls, visitations or even the computer.
- Head out for a walk to feel more connected.
- Start conversations with neighbors.
- Volunteer your time, join a group or get involved in local activities.
- Meet people online.
Marcus Rand, director of Campaign to End Loneliness, said, “We can play a role in supporting local older people to avoid loneliness – for example, by visiting them, calling them or offering help with transport to get out and about. You could offer support with using the Internet to help stay connected with friends and family, or let them know about social activities going on in their local area.”