The holiday season is a stressful time for most people. It’s often financially draining. Physically draining when trying to attend all of the events. And for many people it can be a lonely time or a triggering time or a time when there is more sadness or anxiety than the rest of the year. When I lived in Toronto from 2015-2020, I spent 1 Christmas with just my partner at the time (and my dog), followed by 2 Christmases with just my dog, followed by 2 Christmases with a friend and his family, and then finally a Christmas with my parents. Last year I was with my brother and his wife and stepkids (and my SIL’s brother and his family). This year I get to spend it with my parents, other brother and his wife (and 2 dogs). I know what it’s like to have a lonely Christmas. I also know what it’s like to have a busy Christmas. I spent many years (including with chronic pain) working in retail and working 45+ hour weeks throughout December, doing a lot of standing and running around. This year I’ve gone to so many holiday events already that even though I feel a lot better physically (and emotionally) than I have in the past, I still notice a bit more pain than I had. How do we navigate all of this?
Emotions: Loneliness, Sadness, Anxiety & Stress First, I think that recognizing what you’re feeling is important. I’m a big believer in not trying to repress emotions (while also not getting swept away by them). Making some room for this experience is actually okay. You’re not alone in any of these feelings and remembering that is so important. Giving yourself a lot of compassion can help a lot. Also trying to connect with others as much as possible – even if its short durations, or online instead of in-person can help ease a lot of these feelings. If you can muster up a gratitude practice, I find it can be helpful. Of course, reach out to local helplines for support if you’re in crisis. Maybe try this self-compassion/Christmas gratitude practice I released last year.
Pain and Other Symptoms Noticing your triggers for pain – as I’m sure many of you are aware – is important. There’s no point pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion. Taking breaks and pacing is extremely important, even if you’re “in charge” of buying presents or cooking meals (actually this is when it’s most important). Think about who you can share some of these responsibilities with and ask for help (making room for uncomfortable feelings that may come with it). Try not to schedule too much for yourself in one day and keep all the days with as equal amount of activity as possible. I know that the amount of events I’m attending is actually winding down over Christmas and all of the cooking is shared between myself, my parents, and my brother and SIL. My New Years’ plans are pretty chill – my partner and I are just going to a brewery (just us). Maybe try some relaxation practices throughout the holidays when you’re taking breaks. Something like yoga nidra.
All in all, just doing what is within your control to make this a good holiday and allowing what is not in your control to just be there, without it overtaking you. I know from experience that this is easier said than done. Just keep on making the most of it everyone!
I’ve been thinking about loneliness the past few days because I’ve noticed a shift in my mood. It’s a bit lower than normal and when I think about why that might be, it comes back to feeling lonely. A year and a half ago I moved from a big city where I had spent 6 years making some wonderful friends, to a small town where I only had my brother in a town over. Then 6 or 7 months ago I moved to another big city, where I have my other brother, his wife, and a close friend I’ve known for many years and his partner. While I do see my brother and sister-in-law fairly often, I haven’t seen my friend much due to schedules, etc. I also don’t have any other friends here and it seems to be harder to make new friends at 37 than it was at 30. I also haven’t had a serious romantic relationship for several years.
Loneliness is also something commonly experienced by people with chronic pain and chronic illness. This can be due to not being able to engage in activities you once could. It could be a lack of understanding from friends and family, perhaps even lost contact with them because of it. It could be an inability to work. And so on. While some people are totally content being on their own (and for the most part I’m totally fine being on my own), most of us crave connection. It’s part of our evolutionary history. Humans have always lived in groups, supported each other. And yet we’re always alone…
One of the four “givens” of the human condition, according to existentialism Irvin Yalom, is isolation. It’s something we fear and dislike, and yet it exists for all of us. I think of it this way, who is the only person you spend 24/7, 365 for your entire life with? YOURSELF. No one else. And so, chronic pain or illness or not, loneliness is something we need to be able to deal with. But how do we do that?
Here are some suggested ways to deal with it:
join activities that you can do – this is something I’m personally looking into right now. Is there a sport you can play? An art class you can take? Some other activity you can engage in with other people, even with your pain? Sometimes this involves making room for your pain, which you can learn to do here.
reach out to friends and family – even if you can’t see them in person, connect via text or phone calls or video chats. I talk to one of my best friends every week via Skype. A couple of my other good friends I video chat with every few weeks and text with regularly. It’s not the same but it’s something.
join online support groups – well I have a love-hate relationship with these, they can be a great way to connect and remember that you’re not alone. Friendships can even develop online. Listen to this podcast about it.
Speaking of making friends online, tryonline dating – okay, if you’re in a relationship this may not be the best idea, but you could try Bumble BFF in which the sole purpose is to make friends. Otherwise, I have made plenty of friends in the past via online dating (though that was pre-pandemic and it does seem to be a little harder now).
Become your own best friend – while this doesn’t completely take away feelings of loneliness, it can help you in the in-between times of being with other people. I’m definitely my own best friend. And yes, I do still get bouts of loneliness but they are few and far between (I just happen to be in one of the few).
No one likes to feel lonely, especially when paired with other emotions like sadness and anxiety. While chronic pain and illness can make loneliness more common, there are definitely a few ways you can combat it so that you can keep making the most of it.