Loneliness over the holidays and winter months

Many people experience loneliness (1).  It can impact mental health and physical health as discussed in the Surgeon General’s 2023 report (2).

Strategies to address this has been discussed previously (3).

Yet for many others, loneliness can be amplified during the holidays and winter months.

  • For example, people who are already lonely may feel even more isolated and disconnected from others. This is partly because the holiday season is often portrayed as a time of togetherness and celebration with loved ones, which can make those who are alone feel left out and more acutely aware of their loneliness.
  •  Others experiencing increased loneliness during the holidays include people who are away from their friends and family, recently separated or divorced, those that have lost loved ones, people traveling for work, etc. and those who gain most of their social interactions in the work setting as they may not be working during the holidays, etc.

What are some mental health concerns that can occur due to loneliness?

  • Loneliness can impact anxiety, depression, alcohol, or drug use, other addictive behaviors, etc. (4)
  • Holidays can also be a stressful time for some due to lives lost during the pandemic, relationships strained due to loss of practice (social isolation), and political disagreements.

What are some strategies to help with loneliness during the holidays and winter months?

  • Think of all the years past and if there were activities or moments that you enjoyed around the holidays winter months. Now think of ways you could plan those activities or moments this holiday or winter season.
  • Reach out to current or past friends, relatives, acquaintances that in advance and inquire about their holiday plans in case you can get together with them.
  • Participate or volunteer with organizations like Salvation army, United way, community events, religious events, etc
  • Go on a trip: many vacation spots provide a break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.  Research a trip for the spring or summer, this can be an enjoyable experience for some people and it will give you something to look forward to.
  • Stay busy, maintain a structure to your day-eat nutritious foods, get enough sleep, exercise; work on projects around the house, hobbies, etc.
  • The task or project you’ve been putting off? The holidays might be a great time to work on it.
  • Use the power of social media and look into what healthy activities have worked for others.
  • Consider taking 5 actions for 5 days.
  • For other strategies go here: https://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/category/loneliness/

For more resources: 

By R Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA

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Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References:

  1. Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community 2023. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf
  2. Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community 2023. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf
  3. Patel R. Mental Health For College Students https://a.co/d/iXhbkAj

Coping with Loneliness and Isolation

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Many young adults struggle with loneliness. For example, a national survey found that almost 70% of Gen-Zers and 71% of millennials are lonely vs. 50% of baby-boomers (1,2).

For some, this could be further increased by COVID 19 (Corona)related social distancing, quarantine, isolation.

Feelings of loneliness can increase symptoms of depression (3) and over time, worsen cognitive function (4).

The American Psychological Association offers the following strategies to cope with loneliness/isolation (5):

  • When possible, plan ahead by considering how you might spend your time, who you can contact for psychosocial support and how you can address any physical or mental health needs.
  • Create and follow a daily routine. This can help with a sense of order and purpose. Try to include regular daily activities, such as work, exercise or learning, and other healthy activities as needed.
  • Maintain virtual contact such as phone calls, text messages, video chat and social media to access social support networks.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Get enough sleep, eat well and exercise in your home when you are physically capable of doing so. Try to avoid using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with the stresses of isolation and quarantine.
  • Consider telehealth or telecounseling (see  campus and surrounding resources below).
  • Limit excessive news consumption to reliable sources because too much exposure to media coverage can increase feelings of fear and anxiety.
    • Balance this time with other activities unrelated to quarantine or isolation, such as reading, listening to music or learning a new language.

Psychological strategies to manage stress and stay positive during times of loneliness/isolation (5):

  • Take a look at your worries and aim to be realistic in your assessment of the actual concern as well as your ability to cope. Keeping a dairy may help.
  • Focus on what you can do and accept the things you can’t change.
  • Keep a daily gratitude journal. This will help you appreciate the positives which can help reduce stress.
  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation exercises. There many online resources that can help, including our mental health strategies video series.
  • Focusing on the altruistic reasons for social distancing, quarantine or isolation can also help mitigate psychological distress. Remember that by taking such measures, you are reducing the possibility of transmitting COVID-19 and protecting those who are most vulnerable.

Other strategies:

  • For some, periodic isolation can be a time of solitude—an opportunity to step back from your daily life and re-focus on your priorities and longer term goals. This can help you better deal with shorter term challenges. This can also help you identify things that you could add or subtract when you return to your usual life.  What tasks or goals have you been putting off that you can now address because of this time? Can you do research on future goals?
  • Change the scene. Take a walk outside when possible. Fresh air, and seeing others even at a distance may help reduce feelings of loneliness.
  • Consider online discussion groups based on hobbies such as books, movies, shows, crafts, gaming, video games, professional interests, sports, community area, etc.
  • Consider a discussion group with your classmates.
  • Many places now offer online group fitness, yoga, and virtual races.
  • Schedule a time to virtual visits with friends or family.
  • Campus and surrounding resources related to mental health.

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Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

 References:

  1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-prevent-loneliness-in-a-time-of-social-distancing/
  2. https://www.cigna.com/static/www-cigna-com/docs/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/cigna-2020-loneliness-factsheet.pdf
  3. Cacioppo JT, Hawkley LC, Thisted RA. Perceived social isolation makes me sad: 5-year cross-lagged analyses of loneliness and depressive symptomatology in the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study. Psychol Aging. 2010;25(2):453–463. doi:10.1037/a0017216
  4. Cacioppo JT, Cacioppo S. Older adults reporting social isolation or loneliness show poorer cognitive function 4 years later. Evidence-Based Nursing 2014;17:59-60.
  5. https://www.apa.org/practice/programs/dmhi/research-information/social-distancing

 

Multi-modal options for mental health support

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

College students can experience a broad variety of mental health concerns impacted by a variety of factors.

As a result, it is important for students to keep in mind that there are a variety of solutions and supports available.

While individual counseling, group counseling, psychiatry at our agency are good options, it is important for students to consider all of the resources available to them based on their situation/need, timeliness, and availability.

What if I need immediate assistance or if I am in crisis?

If you are in crisis, go here: https://ccs.osu.edu/about-us-and-our-services/need-immediate-assistance/

  • The link above includes info on Crisis text and call options.

What if I need to talk to someone after hours?

Go here: https://ccs.osu.edu/after-hours-services/

What are some other options for mental health support on campus? 

  • OSU SMART LAB. Uses biofeedback to help you identify sources of stress, problem solve ways to reduce stress, and practice relaxation techniques with our biofeedback software
  • Community Provider Database through OSU Counseling and consultation Service.  You can screen and find providers based problem area, specialty, insurance accepted, distance from campus.
  • Call the number on your insurance card, and they can refer you to a mental health provider in network in your area.
  • OSU Wellness coaching:
    • They aim to help you create the life you want to live, both now and in the future by help you create strategies that leverage your strengths to create and achieve meaningful goals.
  • Nutrition coaching They help you optimize your well-being by creating strategies and addressing barriers to holistic wellness.
  • Relationship education. Strategies on how to practice healthy relationships and prevent sexual violence
  • Alcohol and other drug prevention services. Uses a multi-modal approach to help you address these concerns.

What about self help resources?

What if I am not sure of what I need for mental health support?

  • Consider scheduling a phone screening service through OSU Student Life Counseling and Consultation Service. This phone appointment with our providers can help you figure out services that may be best for your needs, either with us or with one of our partner offices on or off campus.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.