How to cope with pandemic loneliness this holiday season

The holiday season can be a joyous, but many suffer from depression during this time of year. A number of factors can contribute to the “blues” during the holidays, including social isolation, grief and financial strain.

This year, you may also experience feelings of depression and loneliness due to the pandemic.

“People are grieving for similar reasons: loss of family members, jobs, relationships, friendships and physical touch. Everyone is suffering,” said Dr. Asim Shah, psychiatrist at Baylor College of Medicine. “Holiday blues will affect a lot of people this year, including those who haven’t suffered from it before.”


Develop new traditions

The key to handling loneliness? Stop using the phrase “social distancing,” as it can make others feel more depressed during this time. Instead, practice “physical distancing” by socializing outdoors with a small group of loved ones to create new holiday traditions. Follow guidelines and socialize by keeping your distance in open spaces.

Social and digital media has played a large role in the pandemic in terms of connection, as well as helping reduce loneliness. Many families won’t have the chance to visit each other this year, so Shah suggests socializing in the backyard with a few people while video chatting with family members in another city.

Shah also stresses the importance of having a positive circle around you to defeat loneliness. The circle should be made up of loved ones outside of your immediate family members who live with you to create a safe, friendly environment.

“That safe environment will be your crutch and your help, and you will be their help. Everyone needs socialization,” Shah said.

Know the signs

Symptoms of holiday depression include feeling withdrawn or disconnected, not enjoying things you used to enjoy, lack of motivation, problems with sleeping, lack of appetite, difficulty concentrating, feeling irritable, fatigue or trouble making decisions. If isolation or loneliness leads to depression, seek help immediately. Connect with professionals with telehealth opportunities and join self-help groups.

Social support is key, and a lot of these feelings can be eased by connecting with your social circle. If you’re aware that someone near you is suffering from holiday depression, lead them to professional help.

“Don’t be judgmental. Give your loved ones options and be supportive. Be a good listener and guide them through this time,” Shah said.

Survivor’s guilt

Many are also experiencing survivor’s guilt with the loss of loved ones to COVID-19. They feel guilty for surviving tragedy while family or friends suffered from the illness.

Shah shares these tips to cope with survivor’s guilt this holiday season:

  • Practice mindfulness: focus on breathing techniques and meditation
  • Practice self-care: read, listen to music, exercise
  • Be optimistic and help others: Volunteer, help your elderly neighbors, help others financially if possible, donate blood and educate people on how to wear a mask

Shah is professor and executive vice chair in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor. Learn more about mental health services at Baylor or call (713) –798–4857.

Additional Resources

Coping with grief during the holidays

Practicing mindfulness anytime, anywhere

-By Homa Shalchi

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