For many of us, the holiday season evokes warm feelings of togetherness and love. We gather with friends and family to reconnect and celebrate at the end of each year.
But for people who experience chronic loneliness, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time of year — one they approach with a sense of dread. While other people are attending holiday parties and rejoicing in what can be a magical and heartwarming season, they’re at home with nowhere to go and no one to talk to.
Someone who suffers from extreme isolation
faces the same health risks as
smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
If you Google loneliness and the holidays, you’ll find a raft of articles that offer tips for lonely people on how to endure the season. These articles are well-intentioned but mis-guided. The burden of confronting the profound sense of sadness that the loneliest among us feel during the holidays shouldn’t lie with the lonely. It should lie with each of us.
We are living through an epidemic of loneliness. According to a recent study, nearly half of those surveyed report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent), and just 53 percent say they have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis.
“During my years caring for patients,” former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in 2017, “the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.” Research shows that a person who suffers from extreme social isolation faces the same health risks as one who smokes fifteen cigarettes a day.
I’d like to suggest that we all embrace the spirit of the holidays and do our part to reduce loneliness simply by being good to one another.
Over the next few weeks, stop by your elderly neighbour’s house for a cup of coffee and a conversation. Call a relative you haven’t seen in years. Visit a senior centre and share some of your favourite music with someone you’ve never met before. Ask your co-workers what they’re doing for the holidays, and, if they don’t have a place to go for Christmas dinner, invite them over. Make sure that single friend isn’t avoiding going out on New Year’s because they don’t have a significant other to kiss when the clock strikes midnight.
Unplug from social media and resolve only to have in-person conversations for a day. Eat lunch with your co-workers in the break room. Buy an extra movie ticket for someone you’ve been meaning to catch up with. Heal a broken relationship. Recommit to romance with your significant other.
Loneliness cannot be solved through health care interventions alone. Instead, it will take a vast social movement to conquer this epidemic that begins with every one of us. There is no better time to get started than the holidays.
Haven Toronto is a drop-in centre for elder men age 50-plus. The centre is a safe, inviting space where elder men can socialize, grow relationships and be part of a community. This holiday, Haven Toronto will be open every day to serve the homeless and the isolated, including holiday dinner. Through the centre's online store — www.shophaventoronto.ca — people are encouraged to Shop And Share, and donate dinner for a dollar.
Holiday dinners at Haven Toronto are about more than the meal. It is about reducing social isolation and giving people the opportunity to gather and enjoy each others company. This is something the drop-in centre does every day, all year, including all major holidays. Haven Toronto is open 365 days a year — poverty, homelessness and isolation never go on vacation.
Sachin H. Jain, Contributor