How to Cope with Holiday Loneliness
By Dina Cheney
There’s a lot of pressure to celebrate and feel joyful during the winter holidays. But for many of us, this period can instead be a time of disappointment, sadness, and disconnection. For some, being single can exacerbate these emotions. Unfortunately, if you’re someone who feels lonely or has a hard time with the holidays, those negative feelings can intensify when you’re surrounded by upbeat gatherings and jolly greetings. Try these expert tips on how to cope with holiday loneliness.
First, normalize your feelings
Remember that these feelings aren’t permanent, says Shrein Bahrami, therapist and author of The Loneliness Companion. Rather than judging or dismissing your emotions, try to accept your thoughts, and gently remind yourself that they’re temporary. “Almost no level of preparation or positive attitude can completely get rid of the challenge of a lonely holiday season,” explains psychologist Dr. Lynn Saladino. So trying to brave it isn’t guaranteed to work; instead, be kind to yourself and take on your feelings one at a time.
It can also help to acknowledge that you’re not the only person who’s feeling sad or lonely right now. While it might seem like others aren’t feeling the way that you do, Bahrami points out that “many people are putting on a happy face or posting only their best pictures over the holidays.” They’re not broadcasting details about their troubled marriage or family disappointments. Try cutting down on social media use to avoid comparing yourself to others and prompting self-critical thoughts.
Know you don’t have to do everything
You can skip some events you’re invited to, especially if you feel like certain ones will worsen your feelings of loneliness and holiday blues. Dr. Saladino suggests giving yourself a seasonal quota, and only attending the parties you think you’ll enjoy most. You don’t have to stop by your acquaintance’s annual winter bash, where a couple of regulars always seem to pester you about your relationship status. For cases where you have to make an appearance, bring a friend to have that extra support system nearby.
Rather than attending parties you know you won’t enjoy, or if you don’t have any holiday plans, devote the time to activities that will make you feel good, recommends Dr. Justin Lehmiller, researcher at the Kinsey Institute and host of the Sex and Psychology Podcast. Volunteer, get a massage, pursue a hobby, or schedule get-togethers with friends or family—especially on days you anticipate will be tough. “It’s tempting to say that you’ll be fine and muscle through without any plans,” says Dr. Saladino, “but having a couple of things to look forward to can really help.”
Prep responses to intrusive questions
During the holidays, “we have more exposure to people asking for ‘life updates,’ which can be uncomfortable or even painful,” says Dr. Saladino. Frustratingly, these conversations often seem to involve questions about whether we’re seeing someone. To handle these awkward interactions, plan how to respond, suggests Bahrami. To quickly shut down this line of questioning, try answering with a quick, “Nope, I’m enjoying being single right now.” Then, change the subject. (More ways to answer questions about your love life here.)
Another approach to ‘life update’ questions is to identify what’s truly important to you, and then plan a response around that. This way, you’ll feel more confident sharing an update. You can also come up with a few ways to exit conversations gracefully, adds Dr. Saladino. “When we’re overwhelmed, it can be tough to think on the spot.”
“Taking care of your mind and body during this time is crucial to balancing your mood and overall health,” says Bahrami. Even if your schedule is packed with holiday events, try to spend time outdoors, move throughout the day, and get enough sleep. “Getting quality rest is key in order to avoid unhealthy ways of coping during the day when you’re feeling tired or sluggish,” Bahrami adds.
Self-care might also look like tapping your friends and family for support during the holidays. That could mean planning to spend time together, or letting them know that you’re having a hard time so that they’ll be sensitive to that and check on you. If you’re in the mental space to meet new people, you can also have Video Chats and Voice Calls with your Bumble matches. It’s a low-pressure way to connect with a potential date; they might be seeking someone to vent with too!
Your winter holiday season may not be as festive as everyone else might make theirs seem. However, if you set boundaries and practice self-care, you can navigate this time with peace rather than dread——and maybe even find pockets of joy.