This is always a very busy time of year to be a mental health provider. Amid the twinkling lights, snowflakes, and seasonal cheer, feelings of loss and loneliness often can permeate and subdue holiday merriment.

Loneliness is pervasive anyway, and its grasp can tighten on too many hearts this time of year. And despite ever-growing, media-driven platforms offering fleeting hits of validation and connection, it seems the feelings of loneliness are only on the rise. Depression, anxiety, and trauma can all be both perpetuated by and exacerbated by loneliness.

Loneliness is not always married to social isolation. A person can be desperately lonely when also surrounded by people. It is not uncommon that some of the most likeable and giving among us are also very lonely. Loneliness is a feeling of being alone despite not actually being alone. It is often reinforced by the walls we put up with the belief that we are somehow keeping ourselves safer behind our fortress, when in actuality we repeatedly diminish our authenticity and self-trust. It is a feeling of not being truly “known.” Yet, we have become experts at crafting filtered personas of success and wellness, and we have also been duped to believe the filtered portrayals of others. Our social media profiles may allow for more “connections,” but don’t be fooled to believe that the currency of “likes,” comments, and follows can take the place of true connection — let alone intimacy.

We have become masters of small talk, of keeping things surface level. We can fear exploring our own depths and often assume it would be burdensome or too time consuming to explore the depths of others. Many of us crave moments where we can let down our walls and loosen the reins, but we can convince ourselves that the risks of vulnerability outweigh the benefits. This can all be a bit heavy, and we may find ourselves seeking moments of perceived relief through distraction and numbing.

Intimacy is the antidote to loneliness. Intimacy is the merging of true vulnerability and connection, and it demands we have true interactions soul-to-soul, face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh. It is not simply broadcasting our feelings on a virtual interface. It requires reciprocity. It requires time, energy, and intention. It is the art of allowing our hearts to be both loved and broken, to give and receive, to have dreams realized and interrupted, to expose our whole self and to seek the wholeness of another. It is the acceptance of the pain that will inevitably come with full disclosure, but the knowledge that it is only within the fundamental disclosure of intimacy that we truly find acceptance.

Intimacy demands that we question the pride we take in rugged individualism and solo venturing and that we allow for the sharing of our suffering, talents, joy, sadness, and success. Humans are meant to have a tribe as part of our emotional and physical survival. Non-conformity has its merits, and sometimes it is worth being lonely for while if it means standing against harm or hate, but to stay lonely is only so sustainable.

So this holiday season let’s try to have meaningful moments of true connection, of intimacy. Let’s take a moment to verbalize our love for each other, to say thank you, to say sorry, to forgive, to ask for, and to receive. Let’s help others let their walls down by letting our walls down bit by bit. Let’s acknowledge and share the sadness rather than run from it. Let’s acknowledge the joy rather than convincing ourselves that the other shoe will drop. Let’s move closer despite the fear.

Wishing you an intimate holiday season full of meaningful connection.