Loneliness and the Holidays

Dealing With Loneliness During the Holiday Season

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The holiday season is generally thought of as a time of joy and love, but for many people, it’s a time of loneliness. Some people live far from family and miss seeing their loved ones this time of year; others dread going to holiday parties and New Year’s Eve celebrations and end up staying home. Even those with an abundance of friends and family nearby may feel more lonely this year with restrictions on travel and gatherings due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s also common for people to feel emotional distance from the people they’re with, which can result in feeling lonely even when in a room full of people. For those who feel a sense of loneliness, holidays can be a time of additional stress, even those like Valentine's Day or even Independence Day. The following suggestions can help.

Be Good to Yourself

While it may not completely erase feelings of loneliness, taking special care of yourself can help you to feel better and enjoy your solitude more. Whether you take a relaxing bath and give yourself spa treatments, curl up with a good book, enjoy a hobby, or learn something new, doing something for yourself is a form of self-care that is especially important during difficult times.

Taking time to do things that will enhance your self-esteem or at least give you a good dose of fun will not only take your focus off of feeling alone but can lift your spirits as well.

Understand That You’re Not Alone

While you may be feeling alone in your life right now, know that you're not alone: The holidays can be a lonely time for many. Some people wish they could be with family, but can’t; others mourn the relationships with family that they wish they had or long for closer connections with friends. Similarly, some may wish for a supportive romantic relationship and find themselves feeling especially isolated during the holidays.

While it may be uncomfortable to feel lonely, it’s also OK to feel this way.

Talking to others who may share your feelings (either via the internet or in real life) can help you to feel less alone in your situation.

Rethink Your Expectations

Part of why holidays feel more lonely for many people is that our society has high expectations for this time of year. The absence of a romantic partner or a close family seems magnified during this busy time when we’re all supposed to be going to parties, exchanging gifts, and enjoying jolly feelings with loved ones.

One way to deal with the feelings of loneliness is to rethink your expectations. For example, realizing that it's just fine to take a good friend (instead of "the perfect date") to a holiday party, or that the imperfect love of a difficult family member still counts as love, has helped many people feel less lonely.

It's also important to realize that few people’s lifestyles truly measure up to “movie standards” of perfect living, and in doing so, shift your focus to all the great things you do have in your life. Note: Social media can create significant amounts of stress in this area, so do your best to count your blessings instead of comparing yourself to others and the life they portray online.

Get Connected

You may feel lonely when surrounded by people, but it’s harder to feel lonely when you’re reaching out to them. Whether you’re saying hello to neighbors, exchanging friendly words with people at the office, writing holiday cards, or picking up the phone and calling an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, reaching out to people and strengthening bonds can help you feel more connected and less lonely. This may be a time to message people over social media whose statuses you usually simply "like," and catch up on old friendships.

Virtual holiday celebrations will also likely be popular this year as people do their best to connect with friends and family who they're unable to see in person due to COVID-19 restrictions and precautions.

Cultivate Gratitude

There are many far-reaching benefits to practicing gratitude. One easy antidote to feelings of lack is to cultivate feelings of gratitude for what you have; it's hard to focus on both at once.

If you're feeling a lack of love in your life, make a concerted effort to focus on the love that you do have—from friends, family, neighbors, and even pets. You can also focus on things you really value in your life like your work, hobbies, or even your potential.

Maintaining a gratitude journal can be a wonderful exercise in cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Better still, it can leave you with a written record of everything you have to value in your life to read through when you're feeling down.

Give to Others

One particularly meaningful way to feel less lonely during the holidays is to donate your time to a cause you believe in. Helping others who are less fortunate can fill you with feelings of love and pride.

It also can remind you of all you have to be grateful for, and even connect you with others who share your passion. You’ll be part of something larger than yourself, and you’ll be immersing yourself in the true spirit of the holiday season.

Perhaps someone in your community lost their job amidst the coronavirus pandemic and can use a little extra goodwill this year. Drop off an unexpected gift on their doorstep, or reach out to find out if they're having trouble affording a specific present for a little one on their list.

Examine Your Feelings

Though this particular exercise probably won’t make you feel better immediately, if you feel lonely much of the time, this may be a sign that some changes are in order for the coming year. You may want to examine what’s behind your feelings of loneliness, either on your own or with the help of a therapist. There are many ways to connect with a therapist online right now, so you don’t even have to leave your home.

Would you benefit from putting more time into your social life so that you have stronger relationships? Is something inside of you causing you to keep people at a distance? If you’d like to deepen your friendships, it can cost a little extra time and energy, but the payoff is having increased support and feelings of being heard and understood.

Making time for friends, truly listening when your friends talk, and being there for them are all ways to build supportive friendships.

A Word From Verywell

If you feel burdened by feelings of loneliness and find it difficult to deal with, consider talking to a professional about how you feel; seeking professional support can often be more helpful than people expect whether your feelings are simply heightening during the holidays or a constant throughout the year.

If you or a loved one are struggling with loneliness or depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

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

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