Coping with loneliness during the holidays.

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When we feel a painful emotion, our first instinct is to pull away. To numb the pain. To hide from the intensity.

This was the case for Sarah and Jack, two unique individuals with vastly different circumstances. But they each experienced the same emotion: loneliness. An emotion that is heightened during the holidays.

Original Source:

I originally wrote this article for The Drive Magazine.

https://thedrivemagazine.com/posts/lean-into-loneliness/

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SARAH

Sarah was a 42-year-old recently divorced woman who was about to face her first holiday season alone. Living in a new town, miles away from friends and family, she was waiting to begin a new job in January. Hours felt like days.

Days felt like months. Sarah had tried everything to fill the void inside. The mistake she made was running away from the one thing that would help get her to the other side: loneliness itself.

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Knowledge is power

1. Understand the emotion

We need to first understand an emotion before we jump to the conclusion that it’s either good or bad, because in reality, emotions are almost entirely physiological in nature.

There’s not a negative or positive to them. It’s in our mind that we make it one or the other. This concept is supported by Schachter-Singer’s theory of emotion:

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This theory of emotion explains why two people can experience the exact same event and have completely different emotional reactions to it.

What matters most is the person’s interpretation of an event, not the event itself. After all, as they say, one person’s glass-half-full is another one’s glass-half-empty.

In Sarah’s situation, she interpreted her physiological response to idle time as loneliness, while another person might label it as much-needed relaxation. Ultimately, Sarah has a choice. One interpretation debilitates; the other empowers.

2. Witness the emotion

Now that Sarah understands the interpretative power she holds over her environmental triggers, the next step is to witness loneliness in a neutral, curious state rather than fighting it at every turn.

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In doing so, Sarah neutralizes the intensity of her emotions, allowing them to flow through her, rather than getting stuck in a repetitive loop of pain.

Here are four simple ways to create space between triggers and responses:

1. Count to 10

2. Take a long deep breath

3. Make three wishes

4. Look up at the sky

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Taken one step further, each time that Sarah experiences a challenging emotion during the holidays, rather than running from it she needs to lean in and ask that emotion, “What are you trying to teach me?”

3. Reframe the emotion

The final step for Sarah is to learn how to reframe the situations that trigger her loneliness, and understand why sometimes she overreacts, while other times she lets go without a second thought.

Solitude is perceived as isolation by one person and freedom by another.

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Reframing exercise:

1. Identify a situation that triggers loneliness.

2. Imagine the best-case scenario: “This situation is temporary.”

3. Look for evidence of the best-case scenario: “The longest I’ve been single is two years.”

4. Describe the worst-case scenario: “I will be alone forever.”

5. Name the benefits of the worst-case scenario: “I am free to do what I want.”

6. Finally, ask for help in reframing triggers, especially when feeling overwhelmed.

Once Sarah learns how to change the story “behind” the story, her instinctive loneliness lessens. And her ability to choose a higher thought improves.

Watch Video Summary

Click Here

JACK

At 55 years of age, Jack was also feeling the pangs of loneliness. His wife of 25 years died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago.

Unexpected was an understatement. They had run in three marathons together and had spent their weekends sampling new vegan restaurants in their local community. Ever since his wife had died, Jack struggled to face the holidays alone.

Jack’s story is as much about him as it is about the family around him. His family and friends’ automatic response was to feel sorry for him, a response that compounded his feelings of disconnectedness and misunderstanding.

Jack did not want people to feel sorry for him. He was a proud man who was ready to move on.

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Get out of your own head

1. Meet with “experienced” widowers

As much as Jack missed his wife, he also missed his ability to connect authentically with friends and family. Having been treated with kid gloves since his wife died, Jack longed to be seen as a victor rather than a victim

As such, I encourage Jack to connect with like-minded individuals who had been through a similar situation: widows and widowers. Specifically, ones who had been on their own for several years.

The benefits are twofold. One, Jack would learn new ways of relating to friends and family. And two, he’d be given the green light to grow and acclimate to his new circumstances.

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2. Connect with others in unexpected, low-pressure ways

The other component missing in Jack’s life was fun. Simple, cheerful, good-time fun. Everything had become so serious since his wife died, with almost every conversation beginning or ending with his wife’s death.

There was no doubt that he missed her with all his heart. But equally, he longed for moments where he could be free of the loneliness and pain.

I recommend that Jack reintroduce sports into his life. Something non-competitive that would get him out of the house on a Wednesday night. Better yet, if it involved people that he had never met, it would allow him to continue his journey of reinvention and rediscovery.

Equally therapeutic for Jack would be joining a cinema group or regular euchre meetup—both would offer him a chance to be in the moment and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

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3. Honour the old, create the new

Finally, I advise Jack to examine the memories and traditions that he wanted to keep alive during the holidays—and, equally, the ones of which he was ready to let go.

Jack took the practice one step further. Declaring December a month of renewal and reinvention, he revived a strength and peace inside that radiated out to his entire family.

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Conclusion 

Jack and Sarah have a lot to teach us about loneliness and how important it is to honour the unique ways in which we process adversity.

One size does not fit all. Fellowship and fun were vital for Jack’s growth and recovery, while Sarah needed a more analytical approach to processing difficulty.

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• Lean into loneliness

• Approach it with openness and curiosity

• Make space for the lessons beneath the suffering

Disclaimer: This post and magazine article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. To protect the privacy of individuals, names and identifying details have been changed.

Your Turn

1. How do you cope with difficult emotions during the holidays?

2. What strategies do you use to make peace with the heightened pressures of the Christmas season?

3. What are your unique traditions and one-of-a-kind celebrations?

Video of Blog Post → Click Here

Empowering Conversations.

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In today’s psychology class, we discussed how important it is to empower friends, family, and clients going through difficult times.

And how even if we’re an expert in psychology, medicine, or business – it does not make us the master of someone else’s life.86413B3A-117A-451E-9318-CB334FF5E5CC

Together we explored strength based techniques for uplifting and encouraging others in conversation and in daily life.

Acknowledging that we still have so much left to learn about friends and family.

And the only way to do this is to create an inviting listening space between ourselves and the people we meet.

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Next Steps

Helpful tips for enhancing conversations with clients and family members can be found in the June article in The Drive Magazine (click here) and in the psychology video below —


The Story Behind the Story

This post was inspired by my sister Noelle.

12BB321D-E44A-4F1F-A3DF-D616562A0831“When my sister was 19, she had a brain aneurysm. Every day since, she has struggled to maintain her independence and financial security.

Despite her trauma, Noelle continues to thrive in unexpected and beautiful ways. She never gives up, no matter what comes her way. Over the years, I have discovered the difference it makes when I support Noelle from her perspective, rather than dictating what she needs.”

Excerpt from The Drive Magazine | Issue 122, p. 49

EMPOWERING

Someone with a Brain Injury

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Written with the help of my sister ❤️

Lean into loneliness | The Drive Magazine.

Good news to share!

This month I published my first psychology advice column for a Canadian magazine. The same magazine that profiled my work in positive psychology.

My intention for the psychology article is to inspire and comfort individuals experiencing loneliness during the holidays.

 VIDEO OVERVIEW

 Writing dreams & goals.

I have been writing psychology textbooks for McGraw-Hill Ryerson since 2009 and blogging since 2015.

But truth be told, I have always longed for something more. To write a psychology advice column for a magazine and eventually a book about psychology in everyday life.

Psychology for the people.

My intention is to make psychology accessible, engaging, and easy to apply. Integrate all of the stories, life lessons, and adversities I have witnessed over the years as a former school psychologist and now professor.

Empower the readers to find the strength inside.

Which is why I am thrilled to share an excerpt from the December PSYCH DRIVE column for The DRIVE Magazine.

 Lean into Loneliness —  Introduction

When we feel a painful emotion, our first instinct is to pull away. To numb the pain. To hide from the intensity.

This was the case for Sarah and Jack, two unique individuals with vastly different circumstances. But they each experienced the same emotion: loneliness.

An emotion that is heightened during the holidays.

Knowledge is power

1. Understand the emotion

We need to first understand an emotion before we jump to the conclusion that it’s either good or bad, because in reality, emotions are almost entirely physiological in nature. There’s not a negative or positive to them. It’s in our mind that we make it one or the other. This concept is supported by Schachter-Singer’s theory of emotion..

To continue reading article… click here

Lean into loneliness by Dr. Andrea Dinardo

Stay tuned for the next PSYCH DRIVE in 2019!