Dealing With Loneliness on the Holidays During COVID-19

Ways to cope with loneliness during COVID-19

Verywell / Nez Riaz

Holidays are often the times we spend with loved ones, especially those we don't get to see regularly. However, we've all experienced how gatherings with family and friends have changed since COVID-19, when many of us had to spend so much time apart.

Even though travel restrictions have changed since the beginning of the pandemic, it can still be challenging to get together with loved ones—especially those who have a high risk of getting COVID-19. The holidays can also bring up memories of those we lost during the pandemic, which can be painful to cope with.

Loneliness on a holiday can trigger feelings of sadness, anger, confusion, and frustration, so it's extra important to tend to your mental health and well-being during these times.

This article provides ways to still feel connected during the holidays that are affected by COVID-19, as well as how to handle tough emotions when they arise.

Connect Virtually

Reaching out to the people we love is a great idea at any time of year, but especially so during the holidays. Try reaching out before an upcoming holiday—with a call, a text, or an email—and asking your family member or friend if they'd want to have a phone call or a video call (even a short one!) on the special day.

It's OK to be vulnerable when you reach out to loved ones. You might say, "I'm sad about spending Memorial Day alone this year. Would it be alright if I called you that day?"

Even a quick check-in with a loved one can boost your mood and help you feel that you're not alone on a holiday.

If you can't physically be with loved ones on a holiday, there are other ways you can connect. For instance, you can:

  • Have a virtual happy hour with your friends
  • Plan a virtual dinner date with a loved one
  • Schedule a check-in with family members

Join an Online Support Group

There are many types of online support groups that can help you combat loneliness over the holidays. There are also online grief support groups that can help you cope with the loss of a loved one. This can be especially helpful if it's your first holiday without a family member or friend.

Some grief support groups are organized so that people who experienced similar types of loss can connect. For instance, you can connect with other people who lost loved ones to COVID-19, if that is your experience.

Some support groups even have chat rooms where you can connect with other people at any time of day or night.

Stress during the holidays may affect symptoms of mental health conditions, too. There are online support groups for mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and more. Connecting with people who can relate to your experience with your mental health condition can also help you feel less alone.

In fact, research finds that more people with mental health conditions started using online support groups during the COVID-19 pandemic to find support, share experiences, and learn helpful coping mechanisms.

Try Volunteering

If you're able to attend in-person events, volunteering can be a great way to feel more connected to your community. Many neighborhoods or cities have service programs—maybe you start a toy drive for Christmas or Hanukkah, or serve dinner at a food shelter for Thanksgiving. It can feel good, especially during a holiday, to give back to others.

Plus, volunteering can have excellent health benefits, including:

  • Boosting self-esteem
  • Improving life satisfaction
  • Increasing happiness
  • Reducing depressive symptoms

Learn a New Skill

Have you always wanted to play guitar? Do you dream about learning French? Whatever your interests are, there's no time like the present to start acquiring a new skill. Hobbies can give you a sense of accomplishment, and learning new skills can actually help improve symptoms of depression, decrease stress, and boost self-esteem.

Even better, you can join an online or in-person class to pick up a new skill. Classes can be great way to meet like-minded people, make new friends, and build a sense of community.

Have Fun

Holidays should also be times when we celebrate ourselves, and spending time having fun can have enormous mental health benefits, like boosting your well-being and reducing stress. Especially if you get a day or two off of work for a holiday (or if you can take a day off!), take advantage of the extra time and do something that brings you joy.

Maybe you go to the movies or go for a bike ride. If your neighborhood has adult sports leagues, like a dodgeball or softball team, see if they have any events planned.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care has become sort of a buzzword, but no matter what you see in advertising campaigns or on social media, self-care doesn't have to mean regular spa days, wine in the bathtub, expensive vacations, or retail therapy.

Self-care means that we are checking in with ourselves and making sure that we can meet our needs, knowing that our needs may differ each day. Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all approach and it is a unique practice.

Taking a nap can be self-care, as is taking a break from work to dance to your favorite song. Maybe you write a poem, go for a walk, or spend the day watching all of your favorite movies. Self-care can also mean setting boundaries with other people, or removing ourselves from a toxic relationship. Self-care is also admitting that we need help in order to heal from difficult experiences or to deal with tough emotions.

Self-care was an important practice for many people at the start of COVID-19 and throughout the pandemic. In general, it's a way to help keep yourself accountable for your mental and physical health. If you feel on the verge of burnout or your muscles feel tight, take it as a sign that you can benefit from some de-stressing.

Practice Gratitude

A great way to lift your mood is to take stock of the good things in your life, especially when you may be missing other things, like having family and friends around for the holidays. There's nothing too big or too small to be grateful for. Your list may include:

  • A friendly chat with your neighbor
  • Having a safe place to live
  • Phone calls with your best friend
  • Reading a good book
  • Watching your favorite TV show
  • Your cat or dog

Practicing gratitude can also mean giving to others. Whether you are helping your neighbor grocery shop, buying a small gift for a friend, or mailing a card to a loved one, you are giving your time and skills to others, which can give you feelings of well-being, meaning, and pride.

Research supports the idea that gratitude is beneficial to your health. In fact, gratitude can help you feel more optimistic, build stronger relationships, deal with challenges, and even feel happier.

Try keeping a gratitude journal, which is a dedicated notebook where you jot down things that you're thankful for.

Get Outside

Did you know that being outside in green spaces can help lower your risk of depression and lead to faster recovery from psychological stress? Whether it's going to your local park or finding a new hiking trail, there are many mental health benefits of spending time in nature, such as improving your ability to focus, increasing energy, and boosting your self-esteem. It can also help reduce anger and depression.

Being outside can reduce stress and give you a greater sense of belonging in your community.

Seek Help If You Need It

Sometimes, no matter how much we try to combat loneliness, we still feel isolated and sad. Notice if you feel any of the following, which could be indicators of depression:

If these or any other symptoms you're experiencing feel disruptive to your day to day life, it's important to seek help from a doctor or a mental health professional. It's OK to ask for help when you need it, and there are resources available to help you cope.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Treatment types vary, but therapy—such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—is a common method to address feelings of loneliness, as well as any underlying mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and trauma.

By teaching you healthy coping mechanisms, a therapist can help you address your loneliness, understand where your loneliness is coming from, and actively make decisions to improve your sense of belonging and connectedness.

In some cases, a doctor may also recommend medication like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are antidepressants that can also help improve your symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

If you've come to dread the holidays since COVID-19, know that you're not alone in feeling this way. The holidays can trigger feelings of sadness and isolation, especially if you're unable to spend them with loved ones. Know that there are many ways you can cope with loneliness.

Virtually reaching out to family and friends, volunteering in your community, and practicing self-care are just a few ways that may help. However, if you find you're struggling with loneliness, talk to a doctor or mental health professional. They can offer you resources that will help you process difficult emotions and achieve a more optimistic outlook when the holidays do come around.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Merchant R, Goldin A, Manjanatha D, et al. Opportunities to expand access to mental health services: A case for the role of online peer support communitiesPsychiatr Q. 2022;93:613–625. doi:10.1007/s11126-022-09974-7

  2. Yeung JWK, Zhang Z, Kim TY. Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: cumulative effects and forms. BMC Public Health. 2017;18(1):8. doi:10.1186/s12889-017-4561-8

  3. Goodman WK, Geiger AM, Wolf JM. Leisure activities are linked to mental health benefits by providing time structure: comparing employed, unemployed and homemakersJ Epidemiol Community Health. 2017;71(1):4-11. doi:10.1136/jech-2016-207260

  4. Van Vleet M, Helgeson VS, Berg CA. The importance of having fun: Daily play among adults with type 1 diabetesJ Soc Pers Relat. 2019;36(11-12):3695-3710. doi:10.1177/0265407519832115

  5. American Psychological Association. Self-care has never been more important.

  6. Harvard Health Publishing. Giving thanks can make you happier.

  7. Beyer KMM, Szabo A, Hoormann K, Stolley M. Time spent outdoors, activity levels, and chronic disease among American adultsJ Behav Med. 2018;41(4):494-503. doi:10.1007/s10865-018-9911-1

  8. Tolentino JC, Schmidt SL. DSM-5 Criteria and depression severity: Implications for clinical practice. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00450

  9. Nakao M, Shirotsuki K, Sugaya N. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for management of mental health and stress-related disorders: Recent advances in techniques and technologiesBiopsychosoc Med. 2021;15(1):16. doi:10.1186/s13030-021-00219-w

  10. Clevenger SS, Malhotra D, Dang J, Vanle B, IsHak WW. The role of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in preventing relapse of major depressive disorderTher Adv Psychopharmacol. 2018;8(1):49-58. doi:10.1177/2045125317737264

By Kristen Fuller, MD
Kristen Fuller is a physician, a successful clinical mental health writer, and author. She specializes in addiction, substance abuse, and eating disorders.