A column on mental health by Erica Leniczek
First off, cheers to a New Year to everyone! Holidays are often a time where people gather with loved ones, celebrate, give, and eat lots of yummy foods. For some, however, the holiday season can be missing loved ones, lonely, and filled with financial stress, and even though the holiday season is now well and truly behind us, this piece on how to deal with (seasonal) loneliness on the farm can be helpful all year.
Last issue, I wrote about the importance of learning which metaphorical balls to drop and what balls you need to hold onto. Refresher: glass balls that need to be held onto are things like family, friends, health (yes, that includes your mental health), etc. Rubber balls are the things that you can pick back up when you aren’t facing challenges; these include things like going to the gym, eating healthy all the time, emails, etc. Sometimes, the glass balls change and the rubber balls change depending on what you’re going through.
But what happens if you do drop a ball? What happens if you’re in the middle of a challenging time? What happens if you just feel like you “can’t” anymore?
In those moments, you’re not juggling metaphorical balls, you’re surviving. You’re treading water and trying not to drown – or at least that’s what it can feel like sometimes. That feeling of loneliness, overwhelm, and a quiet that is so loud it’s deafening once the world stops.
If you do feel this way, don’t worry there’s lots that you can do! And I’m happy to be here to give you some simple, in your pocket tools. Here are some things you can do if you feel lonely:
Focus on things that you enjoy and make you feel good. Things like spending time outdoors, going for walks, knitting, reading, spending time with animals, cooking, watching your favorite movie, or whatever it is that fills your metaphorical cup.
Connect with your loved ones virtually. Things like FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Meet are all resources that have the ability to use them for free. Sometimes, when you can’t be with the people you love, being able to hear their voice while also seeing their face can be a good second best. You can further these calls by joining game nights, watching movies together, opening gifts, or eating supper!
Stay off social media. Yes, I know I just said to connect virtually, however social media can be an easy trap for people. You can see what others are doing, how lavish their holiday celebrations are, and what they are doing with their families. Social media tends to be a highlight reel of what people are doing, not necessarily the whole truth. When you’re looking at someone’s highlights and comparing them to what you’re feeling, you can feel worse about what your life holds right now.
Volunteer. They say that one way to help yourself is to focus on helping others. First of all, you will be surrounded by other people! Connection with others dates back to the times of Adam and Eve when they were exiled for disobeying God. He took away their connection to others. Not only does volunteering help you increase the size of your social network, but volunteering is also meaningful work, which can lead to meaningful social connections. Meaningful social connections will help you live a meaningful life, not a life filled with walking into a crowded room feeling alone.
Try not to have expectations. You might associate various traditions with various holidays or seasons. Sometimes these traditions can feel so set in stone that you might feel like you have to continue with them or it “won’t be (insert your holiday here) without the sweet potatoes with a Christmas tree made out of marshmallows on top.” But, we can loosen the expectations a bit. Maybe you try something new or create a new tradition. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with traditions, but if that’s the thing that’s bringing you down and making you feel lonely, you can mix it up a little bit!
Start a gratitude journal. Gratitude has been linked to decreases in stress and increases in happiness, better sleep, and physical health, too! Because gratitude helps people acknowledge their feelings of happiness, they get a dopamine and serotonin kick (your happiness hormones), which in turn gives unhelpful emotions such as loneliness a path out the door for a little bit.
At the end of the day, it’s important to recognize, acknowledge, and make space for your feelings. You need to learn how to process various emotions with tools that work for you. While the tools in this article can help you get out of a holiday funk or, really, cope with loneliness at any time, if you are feeling overwhelmed with this holiday season, try to chat with a mental health professional. Talking to a professional can help you gain specialized insight into your patterns, feelings, and tools that are tailored to your lifestyle.
Loneliness can be challenging, especially when you live in an isolated rural area, but there are many things you can do, and if you need, I’m always here and you can contact me using my contact information below.
Remember: you have survived 100% of your hardest days; you can survive this one too.
Erica Leniczek, B.Sc., B.Ed
Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology Student
Host: The Rural Mindset Podcast
Creator: The Brand Erica
@thebranderica on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook
@ericaleniczek on LinkedIn
John T. Cacioppo, William Patrick, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. W. W. Norton & Company, Aug 17, 2008 – Science – 336 pages
Louise C. Hawkley, Ph.D., John T. Cacioppo, Ph.D., Loneliness Matters: A Theoretical and Empirical Review of Consequences and Mechanisms, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 40, Issue 2, October 2010, Pages 218–227, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-010-9210-8
Toussaint, L., Friedman, P. Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Affect and Beliefs. J Happiness Stud 10, 635 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-008-9111-8
This column was published in Women in Ag Magazine 2022-004. Click here to read the magazine.