It is thought that the holidays are spent with loved ones and friends. From gift-giving to sharing fine meals, the holidays are synonymous with festive and happy gatherings across the world. However, not everyone looks forward to the holidays. Especially folks that are alone or isolated from their families and friends. This is a season that is supposed to be about happiness and the human spirit. However, for many loneliness gets worse during the holidays. Feelings of isolation deepen when it seems everyone else is surrounded by family and friends. Dealing with loneliness around this time can lead to depression, obesity, and more. It does seem like the loneliness epidemic does get worse during the holidays, but there may be some good news when it comes to treating loneliness.
The Loneliness Epidemic
Whether due to family issues, work-related problems, or society in general, loneliness is rapidly becoming an epidemic across the nation and globe. In fact, a recent study by the Angus Reid Institute found that nearly half of Canadians find themselves alone around the holiday season. Similarly, the number of Americans who feel alone and isolated has tripled since 1985. Industry experts have stated that while praying to God is an ideal solution, it does not negate the growing existence of loneliness for people from all walks of life. With persistent loneliness on the rise, alcoholism and binge-eating seem to be on the rise as well.
This is because lonely people tend to feed their emotional problems with food or alcohol. This provides temporary happiness and a break from the norm — loneliness. The rise of social media has also contributed to this mess. We as humans have become digitized and de-sensitized in many ways, which has led to increased feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
Is There a Cure?
The loneliness epidemic is all too real. Whether the blame falls on social media, western politics or the rise of populism/individualism, more people are alone today than ever before. Several case studies and surveys cement the signs and symptoms of isolation. As mentioned earlier, overeating and alcohol abuse is a way for some folks to substitute feeling good for feelings of being alone, neglected or unwanted. However, did you know that researchers are working on a pill to combat loneliness?
What Does the Study Show?
The University of Chicago’s Brain Dynamics Library conducted the study over an eight-week period with placebo or pregnenolone. The latter is a hormone naturally produced by the body’s adrenal gland. The research team monitored participants who consumed both placebo and pregnenolone. Two hours after swallowing the tablets, participants looked at photos of emotional faces and neutral images.
Study volunteers conducted tests measuring the scale of loneliness. They found that many respondents had no one they could speak to in times of crisis. Many of their relationships felt superficial, forced and unreal. These respondents also stated they feel alone, isolated, and can no longer hold meaningful relationships with loved ones or friends. Similar studies in animals showed that pregnenolone can reduce threat responses and reactions to feelings of isolation. The latter is one of the main reasons for increased anxiety and panic attacks in humans. It also comes down to fear of the future, death or the unknown.
What Does This Mean for Loneliness and the Holidays?
While the drug cannot formally cure loneliness, developers believe it will reduce feelings of loneliness in human brains. The lead researcher on the project, Stephanie Cacioppo, a reputable neuroscientist, and her team have found that loneliness is not so much about self-preservation or ego. It is simply a desire to connect with others. The idea of the drug is to help people see and accept things as they are — rather than being skeptical of everyone and everything.The drug is still in the study and testing phase so we will have to see how it turns out in the near or distant future.
This holiday season if you are alone there are some things you can try.
- Check out our guide for making friends in the digital age.
- Consider volunteering. This will allow you to meet new people and increase good feelings since you will be helping others.
- If you are dealing with feelings of self-harm this season or if you are self-medicating please reach out to a help group or counselor today.
- Take care of yourself and be willing to ask for help if you feel you need it.