By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach
The season of Advent begins tomorrow, December 1st, for those on the Christian path. It is a season of wonder, waiting, and the hope for better days to come. For most, Advent is the most wonderful time of the year. The hustle and bustle of the spirit of Christmas takes form in gatherings of family and friends, joyful laughter, and reminiscence of days gone by.
Yet, in the shadows of the Christmas trees and sparkling lights, there is a slow and nefarious epidemic growing across the land. This epidemic grips tightly around those who are considered the outcasts, downtrodden, and in some cultures “the untouchables”. It spreads further into the reaches of the homes of the elderly, the disabled, and those with no one to call friend. Unchecked, it moves silently into the bedrooms of forlorn teenagers suffering the angst of adolescence, and the dorm rooms of college students far from home. The epidemic’s creep marches ever forward into the offices, the factories, and the farms, where toils those who live invisible to the rest.
Loneliness blankets the season and suffocates all the aforementioned’s joy. It creates a silent vacuum in an otherwise noisy season. Recently, we have learned that 3 out of 4 Americans report to experience loneliness on a regular basis – regardless of season. Loneliness is born out of isolation and the feeling of disconnection with other human beings. We are, after all, social creatures by nature.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE LONELY:
It would be disingenuous to say, “go make some friends”. Making friends isn’t easy at any age, and friendships aren’t usually the instant result of meeting people. Couple that with the anxiety you may be feeling about meeting new people in the first place, and “go make some friends” easily becomes “stay where you are and be safe“. The thought of making small-talk is cringy at best and a full-on panic attack at worst.
Some things you can do:
Volunteer in an organization that captures your interest. Animal shelters are great places, because it keeps the “people-ing” to a minimum. Spending time with animals helps with anxiety and soothes a lonely soul, among other nerdy scientific benefits that occur. (Not going to go full-force nerd today!)
Call someone. I know, I know. Calling people is so 20th Century. However, hearing another human voice tells our brain that we are not alone and we are still part of the pack, clan, tribe, village, or whatever term you want to use. The voice on the other end of the phone soothes our brain into letting us know that we are okay and we matter.
Join a personal interest group. We all have personal interests. Maybe you enjoy woodworking, art, writing, snowboarding, boating, hiking, singing, or anything under the sun. The point is join a group involved in your personal interest. If there isn’t one try creating one. Let your freak flag fly high and proud. You would not believe the number of people in the world that hold similar interests.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU KNOW OR THINK SOMEONE IS LONELY:
Don’t force the issue. Not all people who spend time alone are lonely. Always invite, but don’t be offended if someone politely declines your invitation. They may have other plans, or just need some “me time” to recharge during this busy season.
Keep your hands to yourself. Never touch people, because you think that is what they want or need. Hugs are great, when the person being hugged is open to the idea. People like to be in charge of their personhood, and crossing that line is not okay. Ask if they want or need a hug, first. This gives them the opportunity to prepare for interactions they possibly haven’t felt in a long time, and the autonomy to say no thank you.
Show up. If you know that a person is experiencing loneliness, show up as your whole self. Put your phone away, and be prepared to be an active listener. Engage in the conversation. Play board games, cards, or take them out for a meal if they are able. The important part is your presence in their present.
The underlying existential theme here is that, again, we are social creatures by nature. We don’t just want the company of others, we need it. Our senses are designed to recognize other human beings through touch, hearing, seeing, tasting, and smell. When we socially engage with others, we feel safe, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.