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Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
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Coping with Loneliness during the Holidays

By Lynne Gots, posted on December 23rd, 2015.

For many people, the holiday season, filled with greeting-card images of family gatherings and communal good cheer, can heighten feelings of loneliness. Those who are grieving the loss of loved ones may miss them especially keenly during this time of year. Memories of happier times can cause the pain of past relationships ended through divorce, a break up, or estrangement to surface unexpectedly. And for those who lack any intimate relationships, overhearing discussions of colleagues’ vacation plans or seeing constant reminders on social media and in seasonal advertising of others’ connections can intensify an already pervasive sense of social isolation.

A study described in a recent NY Times Magazine article  found that people who perceived themselves as lacking close connections (the “lonely” experimental group) were much more reactive than the socially well-integrated comparison group (as measured by electrical activity in the brain) to words suggestive of social isolation, such as “excluded,” “foe,” and “detached”. The researchers concluded that lonely people selectively attend to negative social information. This hypervigilance to perceived threats paradoxically heightens their loneliness and social withdrawal by making them “act in a more defensive, hostile way toward the others with whom they would like to connect.”

So if you’re feeling lonely this holiday season—regardless of whether your loneliness is acute or chronic—be aware of the temptation to compare yourself to others whose holidays seem brighter than yours. Focusing on the negative aspects of your situation may make you withdraw even more and sharpen the pangs of loneliness.

Instead, try reaching out. Accept invitations even if you feel you’re only being included because “they feel sorry for me.” If no invitations are forthcoming, consider extending one to an acquaintance who also is alone. Or volunteer to serve turkey dinner at a homeless shelter or distribute presents at a children’s hospital.

Connection comes in many forms. The Norman Rockwell version of the family holiday table is only one of them.

 



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This blog is intended solely for the purpose of entertainment and education. All remarks are meant as general information and should not be taken as personal diagnostic or therapeutic advice. If you choose to comment on a post, please do not include any information that could identify you as a patient or potential patient. Also, please refrain from making any testimonials about me or my practice, as my professional code of ethics does not permit me to publish such statements. Comments that I deem inappropriate for this forum will not be published.

Contact Dr. Gots

202-331-1566

2440 M Street, NW
Suite 710
Washington, DC 20037

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If you don't receive a response to an email from Dr. Gots in 48 hours, please call the office and leave a voicemail message.

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