If you’re an older woman who lives alone; if your family is scattered far and wide; if you recently lost a partner or spouse; if you have limited mobility due to income or health concerns, you might dread the winter holidays, feeling like they’re a curse since they tend to magnify your isolation.
To add to your holiday blues, you might feel rejected because you haven’t received many (or any) party invitations, or you’re not surrounded by a large adoring family. (For the record, hardly anyone has a LAF. Advertising obsessively projects idyllic family holidays, making those of us in ordinary dysfunctional families feel out of step.)
Maybe you feel like Mrs. Scrooge, mumbling, “Bah, Humbug” under your breath whenever you see others relishing in the holiday spirit.
You’re not alone. Zillions of older adults experience holiday blues; they just don’t admit to it.
The first line of action to overcoming holiday loneliness is not to go all-negative where you wallow in self-pity or feel resentment for being left out.
Of course feeling lonely sucks. Admit that and then vow to be pro-active. If you can’t think of anyone to phone to accompany you to a holiday concert, go alone and enjoy your own company—even dress up for yourself. It’s important to break out of your isolation, lest your loneliness morph into a mild depression.
Another strategy is to become a volunteer. Volunteering connects you to your larger community with the by-product of enhancing your self-esteem. It just plain feels good to give to those in need.
Lend a hand at a local soup kitchen to serve Christmas dinners. Collect warm clothing you can no longer use or buy mittens and hats at Goodwill and donate them to a worthy organization. In Portland, Maine, where I live, the Christmas Program has a list of items disadvantaged kids are in need of. Check out their website, or look for a similar organization in your area.
Reach out to neighbors in your apartment building or those in your neighborhood with whom you have a passing acquaintance, and invite a few folks over for holiday cheer. You may have to stick your neck out to do this, but your loneliness won’t go away in and of itself. It requires some effort.
Finally, don’t regard loneliness, or being alone, as a negative. If you’re like me, you grew up with a mother whose favorite advice when I was feeling lonely or blue, was “to stay busy.” Busyness can keep us from the important inner work we all need to do, especially as we age.
We need to develop the capacity to be alone where we enjoy our own company and discover new inner strengths. When the day comes that our health fails and we’re limited to the narrow circumference of our living quarters, we won’t to be able to live comfortably with ourselves, if we don’t like the person we’ve become.
Consider giving yourself a holiday gift of an inspiring spiritual book to guide you in finding inner peace. Two favorites of mine are: The Grace in Aging by Kathleen Dowling Singh and The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister; both books offer a positive outlook for managing loneliness and aging.