X NSSC's Accessibility Options Click Here

"Maximize Your Personal Connections and Minimize the Holiday Blues"

November 30, 2020

by Alan Blitz

If you are facing some degree of isolation during this holiday season, be assured you are not alone.  According to AARP Foundation Connect2 Affect, the reality is that many of the normal processes and transitions that happen as we grow older—hearing loss, the deaths of spouses, partners and peers, impaired mobility—put us at increased risk for loneliness and isolation. 

What can we do? 

Start Connecting! 

As Evanston resident Susan Griffin nears the holidays, she “tries to start new traditions and let go of great expectations.”  She views the pandemic environment no different than the coming months. “Perhaps we’ve become more guarded with what we can do and can’t do to stay safe, but otherwise it’s about the same.”

Asked what advice she would give others who are living alone and need to connect, Susan replied, “Use your phone and Internet, and if possible, go to your favorite place of prayer, see a movie, prepare a nice dinner for yourself.  Do something new and different out of the ordinary routine.”

Susan suggested other ideas for outreach might be volunteering at a food shelter or mission which could present the opportunity to make new friends and acquaintances. She highly encourages, “Pick up the phone and call a friend or family member and offer to make someone a favorite dish. You have to push yourself and you’ll feel so much better.” 

Judy Kempa of Rogers Park stays active through participation in virtual sessions hosted by a political group and church group. She also virtually attended her niece’s baby shower. To stay connected, Judy works part-time at a local retail store. “I really enjoy the conversation and interaction with customers,” she pointed out.  “It’s really important to take care of yourself, first, so that you’re able to help others,” she added. 

Protect Your Mental Health During Challenging Times

It’s important to be self-aware of the state of your mental health during the pandemic as well as during the holiday season. Terri McHugh, LCSW, clinical supervisor of NSSC’s Senior Options, shares helpful insights and suggestions during our question and answer session below: 

What are some of the greatest mental health concerns of social isolation?

Humans are social animals. Physical and emotional connections are basic needs.  Being isolated for extended periods makes us more prone to develop physical and psychological problems. Anxiety and depression are two common mental health concerns that associate with isolation.

How do I know if I am experiencing mental health issues?  What might be some of the symptoms?

Anxiety feels awful. Common symptoms include uncontrolled worry; irritability; feeling jittery or nervous; stomach/intestinal distress; and inability to focus. When we are anxious, we worry excessively about things we can’t necessarily control or we wish to avoid.  Anxiety can become a pattern—the “what ifs” seem like a broken record playing over and over. 

Depression Hurts: Do I have it?  

People who are depressed may feel sad more days than not.  It’s more than being down in the dumps. People experiencing depression often have little interest in activities they used to enjoy. They often describe feeling guilty because they have lost the ability to get up and get going. Other symptoms may be significant changes in appetite, sleep and an inability to focus.  

Isolation can lead to inactivity, lethargy and a downward spiral to depression. When we are depressed, we often become angry and/or withdrawn. These behaviors can lead to increased isolation and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. 

What should I do to get help?  Can I call somewhere such as a help line?

If you think you cannot keep yourself safe, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. To speak to someone about suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself, the following resources are available 24/7:

  • Friendship Line 800.971.0016
  • National HopeLine 800.273.8255 

Psychotherapy or counseling provides an interactive and supportive environment where you can talk to someone about how you’re feeling. North Shore Senior Options therapists specialize in working with older adults and helping with situations that occur later in life. 

We use a variety of strategies to interrupt the cycle of depression. We also have effective tools for anxiety management. Many people find that therapy helps them gain a sense of direction and clarity. 

How to Contact Us

North Shore Senior Options' highly trained therapists are available for regular appointments by phone or online during pandemic restrictions. Services are usually covered by Medicare and other insurance. Please call 847.242.6270 or email Terri at tmchugh@nssc.org for more information.