Shrinking social circles, life changes, kids and grandchildren living across the country … it all often leads to isolation for older adults, which is especially poignant around the holidays when many seniors feel heightened levels of loneliness.  

While others are opening gifts, gathering around the table for a large family dinners and toasting the coming year at festive gatherings, some older individuals don’t experience the holidays as they used to and this leads to feelings of isolation and sadness.

Fortunately, there are several ways one can prevent such social isolation, either for yourself or the senior in your life.

First, realize that while expectations are high and comparisons run rampant, you don’t need to feel any pressure to make real life a Hallmark movie. Second, redefine what makes a family during the holidays. Your bridge or mahjong group, fellow synagogue members or even the person in the next room at the retirement community are not only great “stand-ins” for family, they can also become wonderful friends who are just like family. Lastly, don’t let loneliness feed on itself ­— the best way to deal with it is to override your instinct to isolate yourself.

Consider these activities or opportunities as a fun and festive way of engaging with others over the holidays (and actually, all throughout the year):  

1. Dine out: Resist the ease of microwave cooking or DoorDash delivery and grab a meal with others. Not only does one get a tasty treat and can explore new restaurants, dining out with one or more people can allow for more intimate conversation and deeper connections. I have an older friend who asked an acquaintance who had nothing to do on a recent holiday to join her in eating out. The friend mentioned it to another and within a couple of days, they had a group of 12 to dine out. 

2. Take a hike: Exercise releases endorphins essential to elevating one’s mood. The fresh air, great views and chance to make new trail friends with healthy habits are additional benefits. Even if you don’t make a new best friend on a hike, you are moving your body, which is always a good thing. The Valley offers many different hiking groups across a range of difficulty. I have another friend who, with his wife, leads a McDowell-Sonoran hike every Christmas Day. They started several years ago with a handful of individuals and the group has now grown to over 40 people.   

3. Attend a Chanukah service: Dig deeper into your religion and rediscover the meaning of the oil, the Maccabees, the traditional foods and accoutrements of the Festival of Lights with like-minded people who also attend. Spiritual care is an important component of self-care and well-being.

4. Lend a helping hand: Whether serving in a soup kitchen, helping organizations such as Toys for Tots, visiting a hospital or walking dogs on Dec. 25, volunteering places you among many other people and warms one’s heart. My synagogue gets a group together to volunteer at the annual Salvation Army Christmas Dinner. There’s no possible way to feel lonely when helping others who are less fortunate feel less lonely as well. And afterwards, some of us go out for Chinese! JN

Arnold Schwartz is a member of Beth Ami Temple of Paradise Valley, a boutique synagogue for active adults. For more information about the congregation or its regular activities, visit bethamitemple.org. Deborah Muller is a public relations consultant for several Valley organizations.

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