Welcome back to the Journey Podcast! In this episode, Sarah, Terry and Don walk through loneliness during different seasons in life. They offer encouragement to those who are feeling lonely.

Transcription of the Podcast

Transcript of the Podcast:

Terry: You know, everybody goes through a period, a short period where you’re lonely. But chronic loneliness kind of makes us more susceptible to things like depression, even Alzheimer’s disease. It lowers our immune system, it stresses our cardiovascular system, and it can actually affect how long we live, because loneliness is not something to just ignore. If you’re feeling lonely right now, do something. Reach out, call somebody, call a hotline, find a counselor, a therapist, a psychiatrist, psychologist, somebody, and just say, hey, I’m really, really lonely. Can you help?

Sarah: Welcome back to The Journey podcast. I’m Sarah Banowetz, and today we are asking the question, how do you cope with loneliness during the holidays? In the studio with me is Don Evans. Welcome Don.

Don: Hi Sarah.

Sarah: Thanks for being here with us.

Don: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.

Sarah: And we have Terry Carlson.

Terry: Hi.

Sarah: As a mental health counselor, it is always good to have you here.

Terry: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Sarah: Thanks for coming. So, many of our listeners may say that they’re surrounded by too many friends and family during the holidays. How big of an issue is loneliness during this time of year?

Terry: Oh, I think, you’re right, a lot of people do have, we’re inundated with invitations, parties, events and so on. But the reality is that loneliness can show up either in the midst of those kinds of things. Have you ever been in a situation where you have been surrounded by people and yet still felt very, very lonely?

Sarah: Yeah.

Terry: And I think that the other possibility too is that there are people who just are plain lonely. They’ve lost family members, they’ve lost friends, other people have moved away, and they just find themselves at the holidays without someone to invite them anywhere.

Sarah: So I would like to hear Don’s input on this.

Don: Yeah, coincidentally I just been thinking about that the last couple of weeks or so. And with my background of, as we’ve recorded on podcasts before, for those that are listening, have heard it before, that created a lot of storms in my family based on my behavior, which led to a dissolving of families, children, relatives, and things of that nature.

Don: So I’m thinking about that a lot lately. And it is a struggle for people. I mean some are afraid to speak out and some are a little bit shy of maybe leaning into a conversation when in turn, I think … What I’ve been thinking about lately is just the peace that I have with my spirituality that has grown immensely over the last six or eight months and I just recommend to people to find peace in yourself, which in turn will help you on those days. When that happens, you really have to decide where your heart is and where you lie in life yourself.

Don: For me, I’ll say for me, before I start judging, say your relatives, an aunt or an uncle or any family members, even your own children for instance, it’s not really up to me to judge what they think, whoever this person may be. Maybe it’s a coworker that you struggle with at work that just doesn’t seem to be in the holiday spirit.

Don: Well, first I would recommend for me, and it’s been helping over the last month or two, is just to look in the mirror at myself and realize that I have to find peace in me, when I look and can recognize the messes with 40 years of experience of messing up your life. And I can see those. Then before I say anything or think anything, I realize, and mentally quietly tell myself, yeah Don, but you’re a mess too. And I’m finding that very helpful, Terry. I think that’s making a difference in the way I view what I think also.

Terry: Well, I think that’s really, really good to try to look inward and just say, what part of this am I playing in it myself?

Don: Yes.

Terry: I think it also happens sometimes. Sometimes we don’t realize it, but the very things that we’re doing can actually make the situation worse. You know, a lot of times when people are lonely, they may be really just trying to avoid rejection from other people. And so they kind of avoid going to parties, or they avoid going to family gatherings and stuff for fear that, well, I’m just going to be rejected and that hurts too much. So I avoid it. And that adds to the loneliness, because you’re right, while you may risk being rejected, there’s that feeling, you don’t get the opportunity to connect with people who might actually be positive.

Don: Well, I completely agree with you, Terry. And we’ve talked about that in various Bible studies and groups that I went to over the years. Then people will say that, gee Don, I wish I could be outspoken like you and really interact. And I take that as a compliment. It’s wonderful.

Don: But I just encourage those folks to just think about where you’re at internally and mentally and don’t back up. Lean in and then people will surround you too. And with those people, I want to convey to all of those, and I do it consistently, I’d love to be alongside of you and help you. When people tell you over and over all your life that we just like the way you act. Okay. That’s all right.

Don: But I also know Terry, there’s a tremendous amount of people that are what you just described. They just don’t know how to get in there and they maybe not go to that family event or something. So I just think that we should really just go with one thing in mind. I’m going to go and have a good time, and can we all just put aside our issues for the day not let them be stressful, and worry to the fact that we just don’t even want to partake in any family events anymore. Maybe just sometimes showing up and just giving it a go and see how it works.

Terry: Yeah, just reach out.

Don: And one other thing that I just thought about is as we look at those friends, relatives or coworkers, if we want to be honest with ourselves, we don’t know what they’re going through. So we have to give them a pass too. Because I know, like I said earlier, a few minutes ago, I’ve lived in a mess most of my life. It’s still not crystal clear, and it never will be, because we’re all sinners. We’re going to make mistakes. And that’s by the grace of God, we can have the peace and show up and not be so judgmental. And I’ve said for years in those situations with families, really, I’ve truly said this, can’t we all just get along today? Come on.

Terry: Well, and Don, you’re an outgoing person yourself. We’ve talked about that before.

Don: Seems to be, yeah.

Terry: But what kind of advice could you give to somebody who maybe isn’t so outgoing and they’re feeling kind of lonely this time of year?

Don: Well, I think again, it comes down to the person, Terry. I mean, are you willing to do the work? And we can spin this another way. As far as I’ve said since 2006, the hardest thing I’ve ever done is being a Christian. I have to work so hard at that based on my extroverted personality and forethinking and quick speaking, and then even coworkers coming up against you to be a Christian. It’s like yeah, that’s all humbug stuff. Well that’s your opinion, and I’m not going to judge you certainly because that’s just wrong of me to do that.

Don: So I think the advice for that person that’s struggling is just to watch some stuff, get involved with somebody that would guide you and have a friend, like I’ve developed in this journey thing, with the coaches and stuff. I have people to reach out. I talk to those coaches, yeah. We get together and have fun times and meals together. And then that gives you a person to go see and express your concerns about that family member or the holiday coming up in Christmas.

Don: It gets pretty complicated, I know. But the main thing that I read and see in my studying is it all starts with you. You’ve got to do something to make your situation go better. And you have to be able to … This is very important, I’m really going to stress on this. You have to listen to other people.

Terry: I think listening is a really good … You make a really good point there.

Sarah: Well, I was going to jump at that’s a great point too.

Don: Yeah, somebody knows your situation, and can tell you what you need to do. Because I’ve been there folks and I’ve done it and I did not listen and that was wrong. So reach out and talk to somebody that you feel close to and ask them what they could do, because they might be able to point you in the right direction. But be open about it. Be open minded.

Sarah: Well, and one thing, I’m an extrovert too, so you got to take what I suggest with a grain of salt. But one thing that I do as an extrovert for any kind of events like this too. So Don, you’re talking about, in general, building relationships and stuff. But as far as when you go to that party, one thing that I do is I look around the room and I find someone who is sitting by themselves.

Terry: That’s an excellent idea.

Sarah: And I go and sit down next to them, and I’ll ask questions. So that goes along with the listening, is I’ll ask questions. So instead of talking. And then it goes into a back and forth. And all of a sudden a half an hour has gone by and other people have joined you. And then if you feel like you don’t really fit in the conversation again, you get up to go get a slice of pie. And then you look around the room again and you find maybe two people are sitting next to each other and not really talking, and you sit down with them.

Sarah: I mean, again, I have a lot of introverts in my family and I know it’s hard when you sit down and no one else is talking. But the main tip is you ask questions.

Terry: Right. Well and I think developing a plan, you’re going to a party, especially if you’re an introvert, develop a plan and think, okay, I’m going to go in and I’m just going to say hi to three people. Or I’m going to ask them how their day is. You’re developing a plan. You’re saying, okay, this is what I’m going to do. So you actually count. Okay, I’ve talked to one, now I’m going to talk to another one. And just kind of do it as an experiment. What happens if I do that?

Sarah: And what if you came up with questions to ask too?

Terry: Sure.

Sarah: Just say, okay, so if it’s for Thanksgiving, Then you could ask them about what their Christmas plans are, or what they are planning on getting their children for Christmas or something like that. Or what their work projects are. But come up with questions ahead of time that you have in your back pocket essentially to ask, so that you don’t have to come up with it on the spot.

Terry: Sure. And I think also doing something good in the situation, volunteering, helping out. We tend to, even introverts tend to feel more competent and more comfortable if they have a role. So call the host ahead of time and say, hey, can I do something for you? Can I go around and refill glasses? That kind of thing. And when you do that, you have more of a role in the thing and you feel a little bit more connected.

Sarah: I naturally do that too. I get up and help when I’m feeling uncomfortable. Another thing is you smile. The biggest thing, even if you don’t talk very much, if you smile at people, they just think you’re the nicest person and they come and talk to you and stuff. I just let the world know, whoever’s listening to The Journey Podcast, that’s my secret of being an extrovert is I just smile. And people mentioned it all the time. They’re like, oh, you’re so nice, I love your smile. And it’s just you can be an introvert and just smile.

Terry: And somebody might even be curious about what you’re smiling about, and come over to find out.

Sarah: I mean, don’t just walk around totally smiling. But when you can’t make eye contact, give them a big smile.

Don: Yeah. But it’s just like Sarah says. It’s very evident that happy people, everybody wants to know what you’re happy about. And we can wear that same smile in Christianity. We can hear the best preachers, wherever you want to listen to them, talk about if you’re … It’ll radiate off of you. And Jeff and I had an instance here a week ago, where a lady just walked by and just overheard us talking. And that just led her to reach out. And it’s amazing how if you’re walking that walk, and talking the talk, and people can see that you’re, whatever it is that you’re on fire about, they want to know.

Don: And I tell people on a regular basis. They go, I don’t know about this church-going thing, Don. You’re inviting us, but I really don’t know about that. I just continue to invite them a couple times and then tell them, hey, come and sit with me. I’m not asking you to go.

Don: But then I leave it alone. I mean, folks, if you’re listening, this works. Try it. They’re going to watch what I do. I’m being watched at all times. And I’m not saying that to pat myself on the back, but people are watching Don, and they’re following. And it’s showing up here as we record this today. There’s people that are going to contact me this week because of what they’ve seen happen, and the happiness that I share wherever I go. They want, I want to know what he’s doing.

Terry: Well, and I think you make a good point here because I think it’s don’t be passive, be active. And if you’re passive, you can sit there and kind of wait for people to come up to you and be lonely or you can be active and look for somebody else who might be lonely like Sarah was saying.

Sarah: Exactly, because with me being an extrovert, I will say that if there are times when I just am not feeling well and I don’t want to be talking with people, I just do the opposite of what I just suggested. So I won’t make as much eye contact, I won’t smile as much, I’ll stay back a little bit further, and then I won’t have those conversations that I usually do as an extrovert.

Don: I got to one up you, because even when I don’t feel good, I’m smiling at people. How you doing? I’m just great man. I’m on my way to meet with Jesus tonight here at church. What are y’all up to?

Sarah: Maybe you’re more of an extrovert than me.

Don: Yeah, well that goes back to the last podcast. That word pretend-aholic. Well in that case, it’s good to be a pretend-aholic that night, because then everybody thinks you’re still happy.

Sarah: Okay. So I want to change the subject slightly. So Terry, with you being a counselor, maybe you can address this more heavy topic, which is for others who are missing loved ones who have passed away or moved away, and in those situations the holidays can be devastatingly lonely.

Terry: Oh absolutely.

Sarah: How do people deal with those kinds of situations?

Terry: I think a lot of what we’ve already talked here really applies, maybe with one additional one. Be really good to yourself. Remind yourself you’re not alone. There are other people who are also going through the same kind of thing. But again, develop a plan. Get out there, try not to be passive. Let people know, find close friends and just say, hey, I’m really struggling with this holiday.

Terry: I remember the year after my dad passed away. It had only been a few months before Christmas and I absolutely didn’t feel like putting up a Christmas tree. It was like, why bother? I just remember feeling like I didn’t even want to celebrate Christmas. And I mentioned that to one of our kids. And they came over and they put up the Christmas tree for us and they decorated. And it felt so good to just feel, to have somebody kind of come around us.

Terry: So if you know somebody who has lost someone right before this holiday or even anytime this year, maybe check with them, how can I bless you? Can I come over and help you with something? Can I bring you a meal? Just realize that they’re the ones who probably are going to have the toughest time this holiday.

Don: Well, and I’ll just add to that one last little thing there. Terry, I like what you said. But I’m going to just make this phrase right up front. Please don’t stay home alone. This alone thing is really bad, folks, because I know, I have traveled that path. And home alone, I’m being silly now, is not the way to go. You need to reach out and talk to anybody you can, just even a passerby friend. Start a conversation, and just make sure that you’re going to plug in somewhere and spend some time with somebody. But please don’t do the alone thing.

Terry: No, I think you make a really good point there. Don. And really what happens too, is everybody goes through a period, a short period where you’re lonely, but chronic loneliness makes us more susceptible to things like depression, even Alzheimer’s disease. It lowers our immune system, it stresses our cardiovascular system, and it can actually affect how long we live, because loneliness is not something to just ignore.

Terry: If you’re feeling lonely right now, do something. Reach out, call somebody, call a hotline, find a friend, find a loved one, find a pastor, find a counselor, a therapist, a psychiatrist, psychologist, somebody, and just say, hey, I’m really, really lonely. Can you help?

Don: Yeah. And just another side note to that loneliness. I can speak with this, with complete confidence. Based on my health in the last 40 years of my life, the loneliness and home alone thing, I can verify doesn’t work. And by making this one statement, it severely affected my health for the rest of my life, because it led to immense drinking. And there’s a lot of people that struggle with drugs and other things. Fortunately, I never did any drugs. But I want to just make this so clear that the alone stuff is just, it’s a Josh Turner song, it’s writing the long black train, and I’m not going to ride that train and I certainly don’t want any of you to.

Sarah: Yes, that’s a good point, Don. So thank you for joining us today as we discuss the impact of loneliness and how that affects us. And our hope is that in listening to this podcast, you feel encouraged, connected, and determined to develop your strengths and to live out your purpose.

Sarah: In concluding the podcast, I do want to leave you with a few questions in order to continue this important discussion. Our hope is that by asking these questions to a trusted friend or coach, you’re able to bridge the gap of loneliness to connection, fear to confidence, and worry to peace.

Sarah: And so the questions I have for you today are what are you going to do? What are your plans for this Thanksgiving and Christmas? What are you planning ahead of time right now so that you can help with connection and avoid loneliness? And then the second question is, what can you also do right now to be prepared for building those relationships during these events?

Sarah: And until next time, live the journey that awaits you. And thank you for listening to the journey podcast. We will see you later.

Terry: Bye.

Don: Bye.

Thank you for listening. Tune in next time and make sure you like and subscribe. Visit us at journeycoaching.org. And check us out on Facebook and Instagram. Start your own journey at journeycoaching.org.