Loneliness, especially at holiday times, is part of the urban landscape, and it’s something that each of us needs to combat. The battle isn’t easily won, but we can begin to move closer to its resolution.
First, realize that mental health professionals aren’t feeling somewhat concerned that they don’t have an instant answer, a pill, a technique, something to lift this gray veil from our mind’s eyes miraculously.
One physician at a major hospital poured out his feelings in an article. An elderly patient had asked him if he could help her with feelings of loneliness. “I wish I could say yes. I wish I could prescribe her some antidepressants and be satisfied that I had done my best, but the truth is she’s not clinically depressed. It’s just that she has been left behind by a world that no longer revolves around her, not even the littlest bit of it.”
The physician said he saw the hospital as a “last resort” for people who found their beloved elderly relatives interfering with the holiday celebrations, requiring too much attention, being too needy. Did those people stop and think about how they would feel if they were no longer relevant to what the physician termed a culture addicted to youth?
Being tossed aside is terrible enough. Having it happen when everyone is in a celebratory mood and you’re excluded kills people earlier than they need to die. How disheartening for the physician, but most of all, for those abandoned to the care of strangers. BTW, that is the title of an excellent book on the history of the American hospital system.
Of course, we have studies of loneliness, especially during a time of a lockdown in a pandemic. Isn’t that what mental health professionals provide?
Who are those who suffer from loneliness most during this time? Younger adults, people with low income, the economically inactive, and people with mental health conditions were more likely to be in the highest loneliness class than the lowest. Everyone in these groups has a good reason to feel isolated and lonely. Wouldn’t you?
The thread that connects all of them and all of us is seen in the data; social connection. If we can maintain social relationships, we may keep ourselves afloat during particular times of emotional privation where the intensity ratches up—holiday times.
During the year, any year without a pandemic, we work toward solidifying our human and even animal connections. Some will join like-minded groups for activity; others will be sure to schedule regular social interactions either face-to-face or via technology. It will include quiet walks in parks or interactions with animals in the home or outside for some.
Pet ownership, in my opinion, can be quite a healthful activity. They may provide a sense of need and security and prevent rash actions. If it’s true that dogs have masters, cats have staff; then we know they have the power to help us. Fighting loneliness is one of their tasks. For dogs, they provide unconditional love as they perceive our need and they give it to us. Dogs can be saviors, but not everyone can have one.
Articles aplenty will appear now in all manner of publications. They will offer sure-cure ways to tackle loneliness and make it something positive. And some of the advice is good because everything can be seen in more than one light. My advice?
Seek to firm up your relationships now and remind yourself that you have power over your life, no matter where you are or what you no longer do. Unfortunately, we live in a world that defines us not simply by age (ageism) but by what we do for a living.
What is one of the first questions people ask you when you meet? Of course, it’s “And what do you do?” I am almost bursting at the seams because I want to respond, “Do about what?” I am not what I do or what I did. I am me, and that matters.
Want to fight loneliness? Begin today in whatever way you can (I leave the creativity up to you) and work at it as you would have worked (or work) at a career. This is the most important, satisfying work you will ever do.