Combating holiday loneliness by serving others

Dec 7, 2022, 6:41 PM | Updated: 7:41 pm

The most wonderful time of the year can also be a very difficult time for many Utahns struggling with challenges like hunger and loneliness. But there are things you can do and resources available to help.

In the current economic climate with high inflation and interest rates, Tabitha’s Way in American Fork has seen a 40% jump in demand since January and during the holiday season they’re seeing an even more dramatic increase.

“They’re going through some tough times,” Christian Butler, who works in community relations at the local food pantry said. “They’ve lost jobs. They’re struggling.”

Other challenges people face this time of year may not be connected to an individual’s financial situation.

“Anyone can struggle with this,” Cindy Jenkins, an assistant professor at Utah State University who specializes in health and wellness said.

Loneliness isn’t often associated with the holiday season when friends and family often come together, but Jenkins said you don’t have to be alone to feel lonely.

“I think sometimes even when we’re surrounded by our loved ones, we can feel a little lonely. A little disconnected,” she said.

If left unchecked, Jenkins said loneliness can lead to more serious mental health challenges like feeling depressed or anxious.

“And then after that there’s just a whole slew of problems that start.”

In a recent paper, Jenkins offers several ways to combat feelings of loneliness over the holidays. Her first recommendation is to serve.

“When you do service, it immediately takes you out of that,” she said.

“It immediately helps me to stop thinking just here about everything that’s going on in my life and turns my focus outward.”

It’s no surprise Utahns do well when it comes to service and giving. In WalletHub’s recent study of charitable behavior across all 50 states, Utah is number one overall.

But Jenkins notes that often the best service to give when you’re lonely are small and simple acts of reaching out to others that often go unaccounted for but that can make a big difference for you and someone else.

Tabitha’s Way sees the benefits of giving Utahns every day. Even as the needs of the community increase, Butler said they’re not lacking helping hands.

“We have been very blessed with volunteers. We always fill up our slots with volunteers,” he said.

But he added that hunger doesn’t end with the start of the new year. And neither does the opportunity to serve and give. The need for their services is so great that Tabitha’s Way is looking at moving to a larger facility and expanding its hours of operation.

They said they will continue to need volunteers and food drives throughout the year.

Jenkins says in addition to serving others, reaching out to and building relationships with friends and family can also help combat loneliness. Loving yourself by doing something nice for yourself is another recommendation.

Finally, she said even when circumstances seem bleak, it’s important to make this season a season of gratitude by expressing your gratitude to others.

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