THE THERAPY ROOM: Surviving loneliness during the holidays

Posted on 19 December 2018 by LeslieM

In therapy, a female patient of mine has been discussing the depression she has been experiencing since her mother’s death. Her mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer and died within a short three month period. We have been able to reflect on her mother’s life and the close relationship they shared. This week, the same patient told me her depression reached new heights. She finds herself thinking obsessively about how lonely she will be this holiday season without her mother. She has been crying excessively and even called in sick to her employer.

The holiday season is a time of celebration, joy, reflection, hope and love for many people. It is also a time of loneliness for many other individuals. It can be a time when people feel emotional distance from acquaintances or relatives. Be cautious of that feeling of loneliness further developing into depression and/or isolation.

Rethink expectations:

Loneliness can develop with thoughts relating to the absence of a romantic partner or not having a big family holiday gathering, and such thoughts rarely seem as uncomfortable as they do during holiday periods. We are supposed to be invited to spectacular holiday parties and enjoy gift exchanges. Very few lifestyles compare to what magazines, cable television shows and movies project. If you rethink your expectations, you can alleviate loneliness by inviting a good friend or relative to dinner versus wishing for a romantic dinner. Seeing the good in a difficult family member and showing them kindness can also help some individuals be relieved of loneliness.

Connect with others:

You can feel lonely even in a crowded room of people, but it is harder to continue to feel lonely in that room of people if you reach out to them. Whether you say hello to a neighbor you normally do not take time to say hello to or direct message a friend, versus just liking their recent social media posting, reaching out and connecting with others is a solution for loneliness.

Attitude of gratitude:

My patient also told me during her therapy session she realizes that she is distancing herself from her co-workers and calling in sick to avoid any interactions with them. She said she is grateful for her co-workers and she must express her gratitude for all their understanding and kindness since her mother’s death. I suggested she maintain a gratitude journal. This exercise will help her to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and provide a written record of what she values to read and re-read anytime she feels sad, depressed or lonely.

Self examination:

If you feel lonely, it may be a cue for change. Talk to a professional about how you feel; this can often be more helpful than people expect. Change is possible!

Dr. Julia Breur is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private clinical psychotherapy practice in Boca Raton. Further information is available at www.drjuliabreur.com.

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