Holidays are traditionally a time for friends and family to gather and celebrate. For some, it’s the only time of year when they get to see their family and many look forward to it all through the year. The holiday season looks different this year and a lot of us are experiencing increased loneliness. It may be difficult or impossible for you to visit loved ones due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Maybe you’ve decided to be alone this year to help reduce the spread of the virus.
For some, this may be our first holiday season alone. Others may have experienced this before, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult this time around. Some people may be apart from their family for reasons that have nothing to do with the pandemic. This could include situations of estrangement, where you have taken the deliberate decision to reduce or remove all contact with family members.
The holiday season is a common trigger for loneliness. People who may have been completely content being alone throughout the year may begin feeling sad, isolated and lonely as the year comes to a close. Here are a few things to consider as you try to manage these feelings.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s important to take care of yourself when you are feeling lonely. Consider the ways that you can be a friend to yourself during this time. Self-care is especially important when dealing with loneliness. This is because we may have a tendency to neglect our own needs when we are feeling alone. Take the time to ensure you are having sufficient and healthy meals and getting enough sleep. It may sound simple, but ensure that you are drinking enough water, too. Take the time to keep your environment clean and comfortable. These basic acts of self-care are examples of showing up for yourself and reaffirming your relationship with yourself.
Be Extra Kind and Gentle
Loneliness can trigger thoughts of self-pity or worthlessness. Practicing acts of kindness towards yourself can help to counteract these feelings. Taking the time to tell yourself reassuring words can be very effective during difficult times. Maybe you have a favorite phrase or saying that you can repeat to yourself when these feelings arise. Consider creating a playlist of songs that make you happy. You can have the playlist ready to go for when the feelings of loneliness arise. Maybe you can create a list of favorite movies to watch when you feel alone. What other ways can you show kindness to yourself? Think of something that you would want a friend or loved one to do for you and do it for yourself. Doing things to make yourself happy helps to remind you that you are self-sufficient.
Reach Out When You Can
Sometimes, we double down on our loneliness by withdrawing from loved ones. We may feel lonely, but still find ourselves sabotaging relationships. This turns into a cycle as our actions confirm our feelings of loneliness. This may manifest in many ways such as not returning calls or texts from friends and family, even though we crave connection. Try to push through these feelings of isolation and reach out to loved ones to maintain contact. A quick phone call can do so much and only takes a bit of effort and time. Remember that the best way to have a friend is to be a friend. Consider that your loved ones may be feeling lonely too. Who can you reach out to today?
Remember to Be Grateful
There are many benefits to practicing gratitude. A great way to counteract loneliness is to feel appreciation for all the good in your life. This is because loneliness is a feeling of lack, while gratitude is a feeling of abundance. Take the time to step outside of your loneliness and examine the positive things in your life. Though you may be lonely in the moment, you still have people in your life that you appreciate. You still have things in your life that you appreciate. What fills you with joy? Is it your work, hobbies, a passion project or a pet? Can you recall a happy day from your past that you feel grateful for? Being grateful for the past and present reminds us that there are good things to come in the future.
Manage Holiday Expectations
As a society, we have come to have great expectations of the holiday season. Holiday movies show us grand gestures and extravagant gifts. Social media may cause us to compare our holiday to someone else’s. You may feel like your holiday is inadequate if it doesn’t match up to expectations you have created for yourself. This year, it’s more important than ever to manage holiday expectations. The pandemic has created challenges for everyone and it may simply not be possible to have the holiday that you want. Consider how you can learn to be content with your current circumstances by accepting that this holiday season won’t be “perfect” – and that’s okay. How can you make the best of what you have and perhaps create new traditions on your own?
Speaking with a therapist can help you to manage feelings of isolation and loneliness this holiday season and as the pandemic continues. Click here to schedule a free consultation to get matched with a therapist who meets your needs.
During the Halloween season, many of us are watching scary movies, reading spooky books and enjoying the festive decorations. During this time of year, we put the spotlight on the emotion of fear and being scared. But most of us don’t fear monsters, goblins or vampires. We more often face the fear of failure, fear of rejection and fear of missing out (FOMO) in our daily lives. Fear can prevent you from reaching your true potential and living your best possible life. Some of us may fear specific situations, objects or people. In trying to avoid these triggers, we may face difficulties in our daily lives and in the pursuit of our goals.
Fear is a powerful emotion that is instigated by perceived danger or threat. This emotion causes distinct physiological and behavioural changes. This can then trigger other emotions such as anger, sadness and shame. In responding to this emotion, we may react by avoiding the perceived threat or confronting it. This is called the fight-or-flight response. This response can also trigger involuntary physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweaty and trembling hands, feeling lightheaded and frequent urination. These symptoms can then worsen your feelings of anxiety as you may feel like you are sick or in physical danger.
The Purpose of Fear
Fear is a very useful emotion. It’s the body’s way of telling us that there may be an impending threat to our safety or wellbeing. While fear can be a healthy and safe response in many situations, there are other times when a fear response is less helpful. In these situations, fear can prevent us from having valuable life experiences. For example, the fear of rejection may prevent you from applying for that job you want. Fears associated with social anxiety may prevent you from meeting new people and forming relationships. A fear of confrontation may be a hindrance to standing up for yourself in unjust situations.
A phobia, which is a type of anxiety disorder, is a persistent and excessive fear of a specific object or situation. People with phobias will do everything possible to avoid the object of their fear. They will experience significant distress if they cannot avoid the trigger. Agoraphobia, for example, causes people to avoid daily activities such as going to the bank or grocery store. Hydrophobia prevents many people from going to the beach.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Managing Fear
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, commonly known as CBT, is a fairly modern psychotherapeutic modality. It focuses on challenging (and ultimately, changing) unhelpful thought patterns, beliefs and cognitive distortions. CBT encourages you to literally face your fears via exposure treatment. This has shown to be effective in patients across the board, from people with extreme phobias to social anxiety. Exposure therapy encourages patients to “climb the fear ladder” by exposure to the object of fear in gradual increments.
For example, a patient with a fear of spiders may first look at pictures of spiders, then watch a video. When they are ready, they can observe a spider in an enclosed space from far away. Over time, they will get closer and closer. One day, they may get as far as handling a spider with their bare hands. This, of course, takes place over an extended period of time and at a pace that the patient can reasonably tolerate. If your exposures are overwhelming, this can have a counterproductive effect.
Similarly, those with social anxiety may climb the fear ladder by first smiling at a stranger on their daily commute and build their way up to initiating a conversation with someone at work. One day, they may feel confident enough to pursue a romantic interest. Decades of research has shown that if we deliberately and systematically confront our fears, the symptoms of anxiety drastically decrease over time.
Challenging Negative Thoughts
CBT also tackles fear by encouraging you to challenge your thoughts and cognitive distortions. Let’s suppose you are afraid of going outside to exercise because you think that everyone will laugh at you. CBT asks you to stop and challenge that thought. Why would they laugh at you? Wouldn’t they be too caught up in their own busy schedules to even give you a second glance? Do you laugh at people when you see them exercising? If someone does laugh at you, what does that say about them?
After asking yourself these questions over time, you may begin to notice that most of the things that you fear do not ever come to pass. You may also begin to notice that some fears are illogical and not rooted in fact. It also becomes evident that most of the time, the feelings of anxiety are far more intense than the actual experience of facing fear. With this knowledge, you become less fearful over time and more inclined to take action even when you are feeling fearful.
CBT Offers Faster Results
Fear is an emotion experienced by everyone, but is far more common in people with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective and relatively quick type of therapy that is particularly effective in treating these conditions and in managing fears. Many patients see results within 5-20 weeks and patients are able to use the CBT techniques on themselves for the rest of their lives. In this way, CBT teaches you to be your own therapist.
The clinicians at Flourish Psychology provide a wide array of treatment modalities, including CBT. We would be happy to have a free consult with you to discuss your therapy needs.
Written by Francine Derby
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