Doctor, therapist share tips to avoid loneliness, stress this holiday season

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – The holidays bring many families and close friends together, but not everyone has that community to lean on, making some days lonely and others stressful.

The death of longtime dancer and DJ, Stephen Boss, also known as “tWitch” from ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ has sparked a national conversation about mental health.

While you might not think tWitch was suffering from a mental illness, doctors say that’s why it’s important to have those difficult conversations with loved ones.

“Holidays can be really hard for a lot of people, for a variety of reasons. But I think it’s most important to check in on your loved ones, check in on your family members talk with them,” Buffy Taylor with Coastal Horizons said.

Taylor says there are some big signs to look out for when someone is struggling.

“If their behavior has changed, if you notice any signs of depression, maybe they’re, you know, sleeping longer, they’re acting out, they’re wearing clothes, that might be, you know, things that they wouldn’t typically wear, kind of hiding out and withdrawn, isolating, you know, check in on them, ask them how they’re doing, you know, make that the normal conversation,” Taylor added.

And if you are concerned about a loved one, there’s a way you can help.

“What are some things that actually make them feel better really thinking through? Like, what are some good coping strategies? Do they need to get out? Do they need to get fresh air do they need to go do something to shake everything off a little bit?”

Coastal Horizons has several services available, including mental and psychiatric health services. There’s also a temporary fix.

“One service that was created this year is that 988. So, using the 988 hotline, which is 24 hours a day, people can call they can check in with a crisis provider if they’re feeling suicidal, if they are feeling alone, they can call and talk to somebody,” Taylor said. “Experiencing the loss of a loved one by suicide is something that nobody should go through. We should never have to bury a loved one because of suicide.”

Coastal Horizons has mental health resources available throughout Southeastern North Carolina.

The organization has offices in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick Counties. They offer individual, group and family counseling, peer support services and so much more.

New Hanover County: 910-343-0145

Pender County: 910-259-0668

Brunswick County: 910-754-4515

If you need hotline help: remember the number 988.

Loneliness for seniors

Dr. Kathleen Young with Novant Health says it’s easy to have expectations from social media or everyday life of what the holidays are supposed to look like, but she suggests maybe taking a break from social media and also recognizing that everyone’s holidays might look different.

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves for the holidays and really, it’s up to us what expectations that we set for ourselves over the holidays, and what we want to make of those days,” Dr. Young said. “I talk about all the time with people on social media, because there are some positive things about social media, it’s a way to keep up with people who maybe don’t live nearby. But it really also does a lot to set expectations for the way holidays should look like and what ways maybe a family should look like. And people can get really caught up scrolling and seeing all of these pictures of things that look a certain way, which may or may not reflect reality. And so I strongly encourage people, if they’re struggling during this time of year, to maybe take a break from social media, and really focus on being present in the moment themselves rather than, you know, looking online and seeing all these maybe unrealistic expectations.”

Another thing Dr. Young recommends is making a schedule and sticking to it, whether that be a phone call with a close friend or getting outside for routine exercise.

“Sometimes we get out of our routines even during the holidays, and it’s very easy to kind of, you know, forget or put to the side the things that are a part of what keeps us well and going routines. And so one of the ways to make sure to do that is to be planful. And think about you know, if you’re somebody who does think exercise is an important thing, make sure that you plan time for doing something like that [or] being outdoors if that’s something that makes you feel good,” Dr. Young said. “Being able to think and plan ahead for that is really helpful. Also, even thinking just about things like making sure you get plenty of sleep and do things for yourself. Like if you if you’d like a warm bath or maybe just like time for meditation and mindfulness, those things can be really helpful too.”

She says even if you are still struggling, there is help out there and she encourages anyone to reach out to someone that can help.

“Our Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, he is really focused on loneliness as a public health issue. And one of the things that he’s done particularly recently for the holiday season is he has put out these free mindfulness tools. And you can find them either on YouTube or through calm the website and app and they’re free. And there are different brief mindfulness activities, and one of them actually is focused on loneliness. So, that’s something I would recommend for people to look into is kind of an easy way to maybe do something for themselves that might help them get through this time of year,” Dr. Young added.

Dr. Young noted that a lot of senior citizens go through life changes and especially feel lonely during the holidays if they don’t have any family nearby and are unable to travel.

“I think a really good starting place is you know, each county has Senior Services, and they’re really, really good. The senior Resource Center here in New Hanover County has such an amazing array of services available for just about anything that anyone would be looking for, as well as ways to connect people with other opportunities in the area. And so, I recommend that to people all the time as a way to be able to get connected, and just have that opportunity to maybe even meet one new person that can start a chain of or maybe something even big,” Dr. Young said. “For people who are in a different stage of life, there are opportunities to connect with other people who are in a similar situation. And so that can be a really nice way to connect and make a different kind of community than maybe what they had, you know, in a life that they had before moving here, or even whenever they were here at an earlier time in their life.”