CBS News December 17, 2018, 9:30 AM How to combat loneliness during the holidays

For many people, the holiday season can be a time when loneliness hits hard. A recent Cigna study reveals loneliness is at epidemic levels nationwide.

Nearly half of Americans report feeling alone or left out, sometimes or always.

Alex Wagner spoke with a diverse group of people, ranging from a 25-year-old social media influencer to a 90-year-old widow, who at one point described themselves as lonely. Wagner pointed out that being lonely is not the same as being alone; in fact, many of the people she spoke to are in relationships, and have kids and families.

Liz Jarvis: I'm typically not the lonely type. I'm usually, like, the life of the party, I'm usually, like, super happy. This one day I was, like, in my room and I was like, "I really feel, like, this dark cloud over me. I just don't wanna get up. I don't wanna get up, I don't wanna breathe, I don't wanna eat, I don't wanna do anything." I've never felt like that before.

Wagner: Everybody's experience with loneliness is different, right? Each one of you has different stories, there are different triggers for the loneliness, different family dynamics. Elise, you lose your job –

Elise Godfrey: Yes. I've worked all my life, and losing that social connection, it's very isolating.

Wagner: Evelyn, you lost your husband, who was your lifetime partner. Can you tell us a little bit about how you've dealt with that and how it's made you feel?

Eveline Felston: So after 66 years of marriage, he went to sleep one day and didn't wake up. And I was all alone. I had never really been without him. It was particularly bad at night. I would put my foot out and there was nobody there.

Wagner: The aging process can also be lonely too, in a way, can't it?

Eveline Felston: I'm still active, I'm still reading, I don't have problems walking. I don't feel 90!

Wagner: Felicia, you became a mom. And motherhood is a gift, it's a blessing, it's a beautiful thing. But it also can be lonely, can't it?

Felicia Alia: It can. I have two faces. You know, I have my social face, and then I have my mom face. And for my kids, I don't wanna cry, I don't wanna express any sadness. So I'm, like, smiling! But it's plastered on my face because I'm like, "This isn't real." My husband said, "People think that you're a stay-at-home mom? Girl, you're doing yoga, you're going to the mall, you're making passionate love all night!" And it's like, "No, actually, I'm so busy that I don't know who I am."

Members of the panel that spoke with Alex Wagner about their experiences with loneliness. CBS News

Wagner: All of you moms are nodding in agreement on that.

Nyja Richardson: Early on, I had a severe loneliness, balancing being a new mom and trying to find myself, and what I did is I literally sat on my couch and I did a post. And I just was completely transparent with my followers and I said, "If you guys are willing, let's meet up in Central Park, have a little mamma meet up." Some were single, some were divorced, some were co-parenting. But it was great to see that all our issues transcend.

Wagner: When we talk about connectivity in this day and age, there is an expectation that it will feed us – the world of social media is enough to sustain us.

Linda Yoonjin: I think the irony of social media is that it was intended to connect us, but I really feel like it disconnects us, in a way. On social media you don't put out many vulnerable sides to you, this "Oh, my life is perfect, everything is going great in my life." You put filters on your life, you put different things on your life to make your life look really great. And in that process, I feel that maybe you're not totally being honest with yourself and honest with other people.

Diego Leon: You have X amount of followers. And I'm like, "That's great. But like, how many of those people really care about you or want to know what you're doing? And that's always the tough part in that sense.

Elise Godfrey: I feel it with Facebook. While it can be wonderful, it is also horrible.

Wagner: Why?

Elise Godfrey: The flipside of it is, when it's Thanksgiving, and I'm single and alone and you look on Facebook and everyone's with their family and their children and their grandchildren. And, "Oh, we're sitting around the table, isn't this wonderful?" And it just makes you feel horrible.

Wagner: Dr. Wench, when we talk about loneliness, it's not just people feeling bad; there are significant and very real health risks that are associated with this.

Dr. Guy Winch: Very much so. Loneliness now is a greater public health concern than obesity and smoking combined.

Wagner: What helps? How do you get through times that are tough?

Mark Gill: I think you have to join clubs or find an activity that you like to do with others, OK? For me it's bowling. I've been bowling for 30 years. So, I feel that you have to find a hobby that you like to do and try to do it with other people.

Eveline Felston: I think you just have to reach out every once in a while. You can't expect everybody to come to you. "Oh, grandma, how are you feeling?" You know, I'd rather call Jack and say, "Hey, what's goin' on with the latest girlfriend?"

Linda Yoonjin: I think first and foremost, you have to admit to yourself that you're lonely. I was afraid of coming out with it because I was afraid of being judged. A lot more people are willing to help than you think!

Liz Jarvis: Having someone show up, like, when they feel that you need them is really big for me.

Wagner: If there's a message for this holiday season, it's knock on a door, make a phone call, stay in touch. Is it helpful to talk with other people?

Elise Godfrey: To know that other people feel the same way that you do. And that you don't have to feel so much shame about it.

Felicia Alia: I think that we're all here and we're all unique and all these situations are different and it is important to shed awareness. Because someone is sitting on the other end of the screen and they can't relate to me, but maybe they can relate to you.

Nyja Richardson: And it all looks different. And I think it's great because we all acknowledge the others. Like, it helps you to acknowledge everyone else's loneliness, regardless if it doesn't mirror yours.