In December, it is very tempting to write a cheery article about celebrating the holidays with families, food, friends, and fun. I don’t want to sound all doom-and-gloom, but the truth is that many people don’t have the opportunities to celebrate in that way during the winter holidays or any other time of year.
AARP Livable Communities surveyed Seattle residents age 45 and up in 2017. The survey included the following: “How often do you have contact with family, friends, or neighbors who do not live with you?” More than 29 percent of respondents answered once a week or less. Nationwide, AARP determined that about one-third of adults age 45 and older feel lonely.
I’ve been reading about the dire effects of social isolation. A couple examples include the UK’s Campaign to End Loneliness and AARP’s Connect2Affect. Based on studies by Holt-Lunstad and others, AARP determined that the health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
I’d like to think fewer people are isolated during the holiday season. Whether or not that’s true, it’s very likely that loneliness is exacerbated for some. For that reason, I’d like to focus on what everyone can do to reduce loneliness—their own or others’—this winter.
Volunteering is good for your health
You may have a favorite volunteer project already—something that appeals to both head and heart. Stepping up the number of hours you give is one way to reduce your own loneliness.
If you don’t know where to start, try United Way’s VolunteerMatch.org. The highly respected website is tailored to your interests and your zip code. Choose from nearly 30 cause areas and hundreds of local organizations that are looking for volunteer help right now. I counted several dozen that involved in-home visits with older people or volunteer transportation. Do you speak another language? Do you perform music? Use search words that describe skills you enjoy. You’ll be amazed how many opportunities are open to you right now.
Donations can bring holiday happiness to others
Countless nonprofit social service organizations work tirelessly to make holidays a little bit nicer for people who don’t have food, shelter, or warm clothing and families that can’t make ends meet. Every little bit makes a difference.
Each of the following links includes multiple recommendations of local organizations that will use your donation to bring holiday happiness to others:
- 7 ways to participate in adopt-a-family holiday programs around Seattle (Seattle’s Child, 11/15/18)
- Fund For The Needy: How your donations help the community (Seattle Times, 11/15/18)
- Community Living Connections—Find An Advocate (Aging and Disability Services community partners)
- Local senior centers (each one provides a world of good for older people and the community in which they are located)
No money? You can donate skills (see volunteering, above, but also repair events) or stuff (most of us have collected a fair amount) or organize a private drive to collect things that others desperately need (e.g., food, baby diapers, coats).
Not everyone can give time or money, but everyone can give kindness. World Kindness Day was last month (November 13) but you can benefit from random acts of kindness throughout the year—your own and kindness received from others. Kindness connects us to others. And human connection—the opposite of social isolation—is the goal. Each of us can make a difference in the life of another person this holiday season and throughout the year.
Stay connected, help others connect, and have a happy holiday season!
Contributor Ava Frisinger chairs the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, which publishes AgeWise King County. She welcomes input from readers via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) as well as applicants for open positions on the council. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/advisory-council.
The final Aging and Disability Services Advisory Council meeting in 2018 is on Friday, December 14, from 12–2 p.m. in Seattle Municipal Tower 4050/4060)
Advisory Council meetings are open to the public. Agendas are available within a week of the meeting. For more information or to request an accommodation, contact Sariga Santhosh at Sariga.Santhosh@seattle.gov or 206-684-0652.