Loneliness, depression, and low self esteem can all interlink to create a great deal of pain during the holidays. Loneliness can feel like, “Nobody cares about me.” Loneliness can occur when experiencing the loss of spending the holidays with loved ones that are no longer around due to death or distance. Loneliness and sadness can develop into depression and can be very painful. Often, when we are lonely we begin to engage in negative self talk or blaming ourselves. This negative self talk creates or exacerbates low self esteem and can deepen depression. Many of the things you can do to avoid loneliness are also ways to increase self esteem and avoid depression.
WHAT BRINGS IT ON?
1. GRIEF & LOSS Loss of a friend, spouse, your health, job, or independence stirs an emotional reaction called grief and can make you feel sad or down. All of these can make you feel alone and depressed. During holidays there is a pressure to feel joyful and excited which contradicts what you are actually feeling. It is common to get self critical for not feeling the way you “should” be feeling when it would be healthier to accept your feelings for what they are.
2. CHANGE OF ROLES Throughout our lives we create roles for ourselves, mother, father, boss, student, child, caretaker, etc. Our roles and rules about life, family, and the holidays change as we grow older. Some people accept and embrace these changes and others have a harder time with the change in the family structure or routine. We are creatures of habit and many people fear change or fear the unknown. If you are the one who has always held family gatherings at your house, and cannot anymore, or another family member is unable or unwilling to travel, is a difficult adjustment and can result in your feeling helpless or lonely; striving to make the holidays just like every other in years past. Sometimes the more pressure we put on something to be the same, the more disappointment we can experience, and disappointed expectations are another reason to feel sad or depressed.
3. RULES/SHOULDS Most people have a list of rules in their head about how people “should” behave, what “should” happen, what you “should” be doing or “should” be feeling. When we place rules and shoulds on ourselves, we are not dealing with the reality of what IS. As a result, we wind up feeling less than, and disappointed in ourselves and others. Media, especially television, promotes societal “shoulds” about how to act, feel, what to buy, etc. It is up to you to determine what is important to you, not others.
4. NEGATIVE FOCUS When we spend time focusing on all the reasons why we have it so bad, it is very hard to see the forest for the trees, and the negativity is contagious. One thing leads to another. This doesn’t mean to ignore things that are wrong, but rather, to try to also accept that there are positives to be found amidst the negatives. Finding them can lead to feeling better.
5. FEAR OF CHANGE Sometimes people get stuck in old rules and old roles for fear of trying something new and challenging one’s self to step outside your comfort zone. The value in taking risks and challenging yourself to do things differently than before is that whenever you do, you increase your positive feelings about yourself. Most fears are not realistic but do leave you feeling helpless and hopeless which will keep you stuck in depression and loneliness.
Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance. He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”