Feeling lonely is always painful but it’s extra tough on holidays.
You may feel lonely over the holidays perhaps because you moved away from family. Maybe you have yet to make new friends in your community too.
Maybe for your mental health, you need distance from your family.
Or maybe you are lonely on holidays because you feel more alone surrounded by others. If you have ever felt this way, it’s truly awful.
You are Not Alone if You Feel Lonely
Part of what makes loneliness so painful is that it’s embarrassing. Yet as ironic as it sounds, if you feel lonely, you are not alone.
Sometimes, it seems that loneliness is the most taboo subject of all. It can feel like admitting you are lonely is to admit there is something wrong with you. When I have gone through times of having no friends, it was embarrassing.
Loneliness Has Gotten More Common
The pandemic worsened loneliness as well. Many people lost contact with friends during this time.
It’s also been very hard to rebuild these friendships since. Research shows that in general the pandemic changed our personalities. People became less social, and more overwhelmed by negative thoughts, during the pandemic. This is even more true for young adults.
Holiday Loneliness Hurts
During winter, many people get depressed. In one survey, over half (55%) of respondents shared feeling down over winter. This is primarily due to the holidays triggering feelings of loneliness and grief.
Sadly, loneliness literally hurts. The pain of loneliness is not “just in your head.” Humans process loneliness in the same region of our brain as we process physical pain.
Loneliness Can Create a Vicious Cycle
It can be hard to cope with loneliness especially over the holidays. Research shows that when people are lonely they are more likely to perceive social threats. What this means is that lonely people are more likely to imagine that people are rejecting them when this is not actually occurring. Therefore, when you are lonely over the holidays, you may feel continuously rejected by triggers such as holiday movies.
I intimately relate to this vicious cycle. When I believed I was “unlovable” due to my trauma, I would assume others didn’t like me whenever I walked into a room. This made me feel lonelier and even more embarrassed.
Fortunately, in time, I was able to find more effective ways to cope with being lonely in general and over the holidays.
Coping with Being Lonely on Holidays Tip #1: Connect with Your Authentic Self
There is one person who is always with you and will never truly abandon you: Yourself.
When you feel lonely, learning how to connect with your authentic self is tremendously healing and empowering.
Connecting with your body also helps build your relationship with yourself. You may do this with breath work (this video explains how to effectively deep breathe at 5:35) or yoga.
Coping with Being Lonely on Holidays Tip #2: Interrupt Thoughts which Reinforce Loneliness
When you feel ashamed, or like something’s wrong with you, when you’re lonely, it can be easy to criticize yourself or focus on the negatives. Yet, this will only make you feel worse and more disconnected from others.
Try to pay attention to your thoughts. If you notice thoughts which deepen your loneliness like “I’m the only person who is alone for the holidays” try to pause. Take a breath and work on thought stopping. To do this, all you need to do is focus on the present moment. To help, you can start to count how many red (or blue etc.) items are in the room around you. When you focus on these details, you allow yourself a break from the inner critic.
Or you may work on challenging your automatic thoughts. My automatic thought which reinforced loneliness was “People don’t like me.” I would pause and remind myself this feeling isn’t a fact. I would also look for exceptions to this belief like times people should genuine care towards me.
When you challenge your thoughts, you are practicing skills from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Coping with Being Lonely on Holidays Tip #3: Notice Small Moments of Connection with Others
Sometimes our negative thoughts can be extreme. They may tell you that if you aren’t surrounded by people on the holidays, then all other interactions are meaningless yet this isn’t true.
Notice small moments of connection with other people. If possible, try to leave the house even for a walk or a cup of coffee. See if people say “hi,” chit chat with you, or maybe hold the door open for you. Notice that you truly are part of the human community even if it doesn’t feel like this sometimes.
Coping with Being Lonely on Holidays Tip #4: Connect with Nature
Take time to connect with nature.
If possible, you may take a day trip to a lovely spot in nature nearby your town or go on a hike. Or you may simply take a walk in the park or sit in pretty courtyard in a shopping mall or your apartment complex.
Research shows that being in nature, even while being alone, reduces anxiety. Furthermore, another study shows that people tend to get even more of the benefits of nature such as increased problem-solving and self-confidence by being alone!
Coping with Being Lonely on Holidays Tip #5: Get a Pet
Research shows that having a companion animal dramatically reduces depression. And if you are lonely on the holidays, you know how depressing this can be. If you have the space, and resources, for a pet, please consider adopting or fostering an animal.
At my loneliest, my cat was an essential lifeline for me. She also gave me the unconditional love that showed me just how worthy I am even if I didn’t always feel that way.
Coping with Being Lonely on Holidays Tip #6: Create an Intentional Future
Take this time as an opportunity to consider the intentional future you want to create.
Choose a word of what you want to attract for yourself when it comes to combatting loneliness. Is it community? Connection? Friends? Please celebrate whatever word which comes to mind initially. This is your authentic truth.
Then create a vision board around this word. If you have never created one, you simply need some magazines, glue (or tape), and poster board (the side of a box works for this). You then make a collage representing this word.
I deeply believe in the power of being intentional about the future you want to manifest. Like many people, after 2020, I was very lonely. My word for 2021 was “Connect” and it truly allowed me to manifest a whole new friend community in a book club I joined that year! My partner and I also got engaged and eloped that year too.
Coping with Being Lonely on Holidays Tip #7: Get Support
If you have the resources to do so, receiving the support of a therapist can be very helpful in overcoming loneliness. This is especially true if your loneliness is related to negative thoughts about yourself or others. Or if your loneliness is related to grief. You may find therapists in your area with this directory.
As you search for the right therapist for you, please check out the article, “What to Look for in a Therapist: 3 Tips by a Licensed Therapist.” If you cannot afford therapy, please know there are still many free and affordable ways to cope with your feelings.
You may also call a free confidential helpline if needed.
Coping with Being Lonely on Holidays Tip #8: Volunteer
Loneliness can exacerbate unhelpful thoughts. Volunteering is a great way to distract yourself if you find your thoughts make you feel worse.
There are many opportunities to volunteer during the holidays. For example, you may choose to volunteer at Feeding America. If you want other options, please do a search for your local community as volunteer opportunities vary by city. You may also reach out to local Churches or non-profits such as shelters and directly ask if they need support during this time of year.
The Holidays Can Feel Less Lonely
While you may not be able to erase your feelings of loneliness on the holidays, you can cope more effectively.
When you try these coping strategies, you will naturally feel a little bit better. Sometimes, we feel better just by not feeling any worse and that matters too!
Also, please be compassionate with yourself. Most people go through periods of loneliness (even if it doesn’t look like on it on social media). All lives have seasons and right now, this is a quieter season. When you cope with this season effectively, you can lay the foundation for your next more abundant and connected season.
About The Author, Krystal
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend will be released late 2022. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”
Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM her @confidentlyauthentic.com or you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your question.