Planning on spending the holidays alone? Or do you know anybody who is? Either way, it's a terrible idea. 

Holidays on your own can sometimes be the path of least resistance. You may be feeling the need to recover from a particularly hectic year, as in my all-time favorite Christmas song by The Waitresses. Your family and closest friends may be far away. You may be feeling low because of life events, or uninterested in the commercialism surrounding the holiday. You may just plain be lacking holiday spirit.

I don't care. People should not be by themselves over the holidays. If you're on your own, you should make sure to be with people. And if you're headed to a gathering of family or friends please consider inviting someone who isn't so lucky along.

Here's why:

1. Loneliness can kill you. Literally.

While watching TED Talk videos about family, I learned something surprising from psychologist Guy Winch: Loneliness is as bad for your health and longevity as smoking. It increase cholesterol, raises your blood pressure, and weakens your immune system. Spend too much time alone and you could literally be shortening your life.

2. Loneliness makes you vulnerable to addiction.

Earlier this year, Johann Hari completely changed many people's view of addiction by sharing research he collected for his book Chasing the Scream. Addiction, he learned, does not mean the addict has personal failings or mental incapacity. Nor does it necessarily result from exposure to addicting substances. What really leads to addiction is loneliness. A fascinating study of rats (who, like humans, are highly social animals) proved this when it showed that a rat stuck alone in a cage will consume so much heroin or cocaine as to overdose on it, while a rat in a healthy social environment will only consume a much smaller amount. You may or may not be someone who struggles with addiction, but all of us are vulnerable to it in some form or another. Spend the holidays alone and you've put yourself, like the rat, into a lonely cage.

3. Loneliness distorts your thinking.

Have you ever had this experience? You choose, for one reason or another, to spend some time alone. Perhaps you need to concentrate on a project, or you want to do something no one else you know wants to do, or you may even have decided you need some time to yourself. Partway through your solo time, you find yourself feeling unloved, even though you yourself chose to be alone.

It's a common example of how being alone can change our perceptions, and it's dangerous. Believing that no one loves you can lead you to make decisions that are bad for you, and perhaps for others as well. 

4. There's no need to spend the holidays alone.

The holidays are a time for parties and gatherings and if you mention to your friends and acquaintances that you have no holiday plans, you will likely wind up with several invitations. Even if that doesn't happen, there's an almost limitless supply of places where you can volunteer during the holidays, either participating in a fun local event or bringing cheer to a hospital, senior center, homeless shelter, or animal shelter where it's needed. If you don't know where to look, this website is a start.

Is any of this a cure for loneliness? No. If you've lost a loved one this year, or seen a relationship end, or if your family members are far away, a holiday party invitation or volunteer job won't stop you from missing them or feeling lonely. But it will get you away from your apartment or house, out among people, and away from your lonely thoughts for a few hours. 

And that's a much better way to spend the holidays.

Published on: Dec 23, 2015
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