The holidays are (hopefully) a time for rest and relaxation. But the sudden transition from working in an office or studying can be jarring, particularly when we don’t have any plans.
Our lives can be so wrapped up in our routines that breaking away leaves us feeling isolated and alone. The people we’re used to seeing day in and day out are away.
The normal activities we use to occupy our time and distract our minds are gone, inviting unwanted thoughts to wander through our minds.
So, how do we cope with feelings of desertion or isolation during the holiday break?
The following blog explores dealing with feelings of aloneness and how to treat yourself and approach others during this difficult period of isolation.
The most important thing to recognise when faced with an empty holiday is that you’re not alone. We’re often filled with a lot of expectations around how we spend our time, with the idea that we go to more places, see more people, and do more things. In our very social media-connected world, displaying that perceived ‘success’ can feel all too important.
But the reality is that social media presents a very limited, often one-sided view of other people’s lives. We have no idea what goes on in the other 99% we don’t see outside of social media, the amount of vulnerability, pain, or distress.
It’s important to rethink your expectations. Being alone during the holidays is normal. Many people spend the holidays without a romantic partner or close family, either because they’re overseas, family distancing through the tragedy they’ve experienced, or for other reasons.
It’s fine to do things differently, to take a friend instead of a date to the holiday party or celebrate Christmas your own way.
Dealing with loneliness can be overwhelming. The familiar comforts of our normal routine don’t prepare us nearly enough for new social interactions or juggling relationships outside of our normal sphere of socialising.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic way to overcome loneliness, although there are steps you can take to recognise that feeling inside yourself.
At one point in our lives, everything was new, even our parents. Through association, we adjust to new people, schools, work environments, relationships, and other social situations.
It’s ok that we’re not great at them. But if you’re feeling isolated over the break, it’s essential to recognise that you are someone who can act on the world — it doesn’t always have to be the other way around all the time, with the world acting on you. Other people around you may feel just as uncomfortable and awkward as you do around them. You’re not any different by feeling cut off or isolated at any given moment. You can reach out and talk to others.
Get involved in the community. Reach out to others around you. Chances are that they’re not as unreceptive as you may think.
There are times, however, when we’re just too depressed or anxious to help ourselves. Making the step to reach out and talk to others becomes too impossibly big a task.
It’s important to recognise these traits in others. Perhaps someone in your study group, office, workspace, class or other group activity has been rather withdrawn and cagey lately. Maybe you notice them avoiding talking about their plans during the break or feeling withdrawn. At the other end, perhaps you notice them ‘overcompensating’, distracting you or others.
In social situations, this may manifest itself in addictive behaviours, such as drinking or drug use, but this won’t always be the case. Sometimes, it’s the signs we don’t see, or that can be shrugged off because we’re busy, that are the most important.
If you’re worried about anyone close to you, try to find time to approach them. Approach the conversation with a non-leading question that doesn’t put pressure on the other person. Let them find a natural conversational avenue to talk to you about their feelings.
Gaining someone’s trust may take time. The important thing is not to activate someone’s defences. Feeling vulnerable in a social situation is a hard ask, particularly if that relationship doesn’t yet exist between you and the other person. So, it’s all about how you approach the topic in order to make someone else feel comfortable sharing.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to approach someone experiencing isolation, depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, Mental Health First Aid is a recognised program that teaches these skill sets.
Typically split into Standard Mental Health First Aid, covering most situations or specific workplace settings, and Youth Mental Health First Aid, the practice focuses on recognising signs and symptoms of mental health issues in others. The courses go on to find the confidence to approach them and how to get professional help.
As an interested third party or as someone experiencing a mental health condition yourself, a course in Mental Health First Aid teaches a lot of valuable coping skills. The aim isn’t to finish with a Ph.D. in psychotherapy but to hold a better understanding of what mental illness looks like in order to help those around you.