Beating holiday loneliness during the global pandemic

Judi Breiterman walking her dog Callie November 19, 2020 in Waldorf, Md (Photo courtesy: Alanda Lee)

By Charnyse Burton
Special to the AFRO

Now that health experts strongly encourage individuals across America to cancel their traditional plans and only gather with their immediate households, the grim reality of eating alone is facing many.

Judi Breiterman, 73, of Waldorf, Md., lives by herself with her dog Callie. COVID-19 caused a significant change in her life by physically disconnecting her from her family and friends. She is afraid to take the chance of spending time with her family during the holidays due to her underlying medial conditions. Breiterman does not want the risk of becoming critically ill. Like many others, being safe is her number one priority this year. 

“Basically, we’re all going to be home by ourselves. I don’t know whether I’m going to go to my daughter’s and wear a mask and pick up a plate and come home, or if I’m just not going to go,” Breiterman said.  

Michelle Hare-Diggs is a licensed professional counselor and clinical director for DXT Therapeutic Service in Forestville, Md. Hare-Diggs understands being with family is something everyone looks forward to during the holidays. It may be tempting to gather with others, but generally health experts say this is not safe. 

“People have gotten really creative. You can do Zoom parties, Zoom calls, drive-bys, arts and crafts and make things for other family members that are older. Everyone is feeling isolated right now, so find a way to get yourself involved with family and friends,” Hare-Diggs said.

Sandy Wadsworth, 62, and her husband, Val, 60, are retired Navy veterans living in Charles County, Md. This holiday season, they decided to spend it alone together. Even though this is the first year they are spending it without others, they will keep some of the traditions alive. They will use social platforms to stay in touch with loved ones. 

“On Thanksgiving Day, we will cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal, which we will probably have mid-afternoon. At some point during the day, we will FaceTime with my brother and his family, our nieces,” Sandy Wadsworth said. “I think we will spend some time just reflecting on this year and thinking about all the things we have to be grateful for and hoping the next year will be better for everyone.”  

Hare-Diggs also said another way to beat loneliness is to do things that are not a part of the  normal monotonous COVID-19 routine.

“If you do feel yourself feeling lonely, reach out to others, communicate with your coworkers, family members that you haven’t spoken to in a while; make a list, get into a hobby or get into crafting. I know a lot of people who are making jewelry now. Anything you can do to occupy your time is good,” Hare-Diggs said. 

The feeling of isolation will extend outside family circles this year. Just days before the Thanksgiving holiday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a new statewide COVID-19 operation. To help reduce super spreader events, Maryland’s bars and restaurants have a state-mandated 10 p.m. closing time. The governor said state troopers will be working with local officials on enforcement. Still, health experts said there are safe things you can do during the holidays. 

“The weather has been really nice, so there are some things you can do outside like walking, exercising, and getting enough oxygen to the brain. Anything you can do to not feel isolated and staying cooped up is the key,” Hare-Diggs said.

Hare-Diggs said calling the 2-1-1 Maryland hotline can help too. Callers can be connected to hundreds of health and human services programs across the state. Reaching out is the first step to beating loneliness, she said. 

Charnyse Burton is a Strategic Communication major in the School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University.