Loneliness can come in many forms, and for many reasons, but perhaps never comes more strongly than during the holiday season. If you don’t have a strong relationship with your family, for instance, or if you lost someone you love during this season in the past, or if you’re wishing you were in a relationship but you aren’t, thousands of small moments – commercials on tv, pictures in storefronts, friends’ social media posts, ads for engagement ring sales – can seem like cruel reminders of the pain you feel this time of year.
And because “the holiday season” seems to get longer every year, these feelings can fester inside you until you start to make unhealthy choices. Lonely people sometimes go back to old addictions to help ease the pain, or start new ones. They might reconnect with people who are bad for them just to feel like there’s someone in their lives. None of these behaviors help, though; in fact, they make things worse because ultimately a lonely person will only beat themselves up for turning to such things to cope.
So if you’re feeling lonely this holiday season, what can you do to make sure you don’t fall into unhealthy methods of coping?
1. Think about what’s really behind your loneliness.
For some people, the stress and fast pace of the holidays bring out lonely feelings that aren’t normally present. But for others, the holidays just make bad feelings that were already there even stronger. If you fall into the second category, then you need to think about the root issues behind your holiday blues. Are you chronically unhappy with being single? Or maybe you’re in a relationship that you’re chronically unhappy with? Do you feel anxious more than you don’t? Does thinking about your relationship with your family, or maybe one particular family member, fill you with stress or sadness? If there’s something that’s bringing you down consistently during the year and just gets worse over the holidays, then make a plan for how you will address it in the new year. Will you build up your support system? Start practicing self-care more seriously? Meet with a therapist? Making plans for change can help you feel like you’re doing something about your loneliness, not just surrendering to it.
2. Limit your alone time.
Yes, some people need more alone time than others, but, as Ross Rosenberg, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist, says, “Loneliness feeds on itself.” When you’re alone, you can tell yourself lies and exaggerations about how you deserve your loneliness or how you’ll never escape it, and it will only get worse. If you feel your alone time going from helpful to destructive, it’s time to limit it. You don’t even have to seek out other people to talk to all the time, necessarily; even just being around others can be helpful. Doing some shopping, sitting at a park and people watching, taking a favorite book to a coffee shop – all of these things can help get you out of your own head for a few hours.
3. Limit time spent on social media.
We all know what we’re going to see when we open our social media feeds over the holidays: pictures of families together, pictures of couples together, pictures of beautiful holiday meals, pictures of kids being cute in their holiday outfits, pictures of “she said yes!” written on a chalkboard next to the happy couple – basically, a whole lot of nothing good for someone suffering from loneliness. For one thing, the pictures don’t show the whole story, the moments of tension in the kitchen while the meal was being cooked, the political argument that erupted at the table 5 mins after the photo was taken, the months of arguing that the happy couple recently went through. The comparisons you make to others based on social media usually aren’t accurate, and always aren’t helpful. If you have to, set a timer for something like 5 or 10 minutes when you open social media and get off of it when the timer goes off.
4. Avoid comparisons of your life to media portrayals of the holidays.
Just like social media, advertisements, tv shows, and movies feed into idealized notions of what the holidays should be like. They get our expectations sky high and lead us to expect magic and miracles over the holiday season. I don’t want to sound too cynical – many people can indeed be moved by the holiday spirit to be kinder or gentler than they usually are. But if you expect your mom who’s been a narcissist her whole life to suddenly be full of questions about your new job, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You don’t have to be a Grinch but manage your expectations.
5. Make a list of the good things that have happened to you over the year.
Cultivating gratitude is one of the best ways to keep the holiday blues at bay. If you write down the positives from your life over the last year – and don’t forget to write down even small things if they brought you happiness – will help you combat the untrue, hostile thoughts you might think about yourself, your worth, and your quality of life. If you’re struggling to come up with good things, do something about it: join a volunteer organization, for instance, so that at least the next year you’ll be able to write down, “Helped people.”
6. Try to avoid nostalgia.
As adults, we often romanticize the past when it comes to the holidays. We think back to times that someone we’ve lost was still with us, or that we were in a relationship that we’re not in anymore. For one thing, nostalgia changes the past. It makes it seem perfect, but if you really think about it, even times that were happy had their problems. A past relationship you may have had wasn’t perfect, and all of your problems weren’t nonexistent when your loved one was alive. It’s natural and perfectly fine to mourn such losses, but don’t believe the lie that your life would be perfect if only… Instead, focus on making new memories that you can cherish in the future. Start a new tradition with family. Reconnect with an old friend. Live in the present.
Want to talk more about coping with holiday loneliness or struggling with loneliness year-round? You can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult .