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Pandemic Holidays Leaving You Lonely? Mindfulness Can Help.

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Loneliness around the holidays has always been an issue for some of us, but the coronavirus outbreak has widened the reality of this struggle to include more people than ever. Before the pandemic hit, a study reported that more than 60% of Americans grapple with loneliness. After lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were issued, about a third of Americans reported feeling even lonelier than usual.

Now, nine months into the pandemic, with the holiday season in full swing, coronavirus numbers are on the rise — and so are the stay-at-home orders to combat that surge. How can those who already struggled with loneliness in normal times deal with the increased isolation? How can people who usually rely on companionship with loved ones during the holidays cope with this new loneliness-inducing reality?

A great telehealth therapist can go a long way in helping you through the most difficult moments — and there’s another resource you can tap into right here, right now that can make a world of difference for you: mindfulness. Big bonus? It’s free!

Mindfulness is the opposite of worrying and ruminating. It gives you an opportunity to accept yourself and your feelings as you are, right here and now, and also to gift yourself with the self-care and compassion you need to make a positive shift within. If you’re feeling especially lonely this holiday season — or anytime — try these mindfulness tools.

1. Observe Yourself Without Judgment: When you feel the intensity of a particularly challenging emotion welling up inside of you, see if you can call it out for what it is: “Oh, that’s anger. That’s worry.” Name it to tame it. Allow yourself to observe it with curiosity, not judging it but simply being aware of it. This is the heart of mindfulness. It will take some practice, but once you notice these feelings, you can work with them, giving yourself room to breathe and changing your relationship to them.

2. Comfort Yourself With Soothing Touch: Put a hand over your heart. Wrap your arms around yourself. Give yourself a gentle touch on the cheek or shoulder or your belly. Wherever touch feels most soothing and comforting to you, give that to yourself. This gentle touch activates your body’s mammalian caregiver response and releases oxytocin and opiates in your brain to counteract cortisol, the stress hormone. Try different spots out on yourself and see what works for you. If you’re in public and feel the need for comfort yet want to be discreet, pick a soothing touch that isn’t as obvious to others, such as softly holding your arms or placing one hand in the other.

3. Tell Yourself What You Most Need to Hear: What do you wish someone would say to you right now? What words would be most comforting or soothing to hear? Do you need to be told you are loved? Safe? Strong? Capable? Whatever you most need to hear right now, create a phrase and repeat it as a mantra to yourself. You can do this silently in your head or out loud depending on whether you’re in ear shot of others. For example, try:

I am loved and appreciated.

I am safe.

I am valued.

I am strong and capable.

I accept myself just as I am.

You might also want to try a free guided meditation, such as those on the Insight Timer App.

4. Stay Grounded: Place your feet on the ground and send your attention down to the soles of your feet. How do they feel? Are you in socks and shoes? Barefoot? Cold or warm? Moist or dry? The act of doing this breaks the seemingly unending loop of troubling thoughts and emotions. You can also ground yourself with a “here and now stone.” Feel it, look at it, notice everything about it. Focusing on the stone is also a great way to break away from the hold of painful thoughts and feelings.

5. Spend Quality Time With a Pet: Animals can have a life-changing positive impact on people. Practice being mindfully present with a pet. Let some of their unconditional love touch your life and see for yourself.

6. Make a Joy List: I cannot recommend this highly enough. Make a joy list and do one thing from it each day. When you are feeling joy, remember to let it fill you up for a few breaths so that you are installing that positive mental state and rewiring your brain for more happiness and resilience!

7. Engage in Community Service: Look into your options for masked in-person or remote community service. Helping others is one of the most powerful and effective ways to lift your spirits and beat loneliness.

8. Start a Gratitude Journal: Each night, write the answers to these two questions in your gratitude journal: What did I enjoy today? What am I grateful for today? This is proven to create a positive feedback loop which makes people happier and healthier.

Mindfulness isn’t a substitute for therapy, and it’s not a substitute for medicine if you need it. It is, however, a powerful and effective way to give yourself more space between you and emotional overwhelm. Take a breath, observe and appreciate, and gift yourself with the self-compassion you need to get through this moment with grace and gentleness.

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