How to Cope if You’re Lonely During the Holidays
Do you dread the holidays because you feel lonely during this season?
First, please know that as ironic as it sounds, you’re not alone. I know it may feel like it though.
Sometimes, it seems that loneliness is the most taboo subject of all. It’s almost as if we feel that to admit we are lonely is to admit there is something wrong with us. I’ve totally been there myself where I’ve felt like a “loser” because my life lacked social connections. The reality is though many people are lonely. In fact, 22% of millennials report having no friends. Furthermore, it is more difficult to make friends as an adult. This is because you no longer have as many organic opportunities to make friends as you do when you’re younger. As you age, you need to become more intentional about making friends. As a self-employed person with no kids to naturally connect me to various communities I know this to be the truth!
The pain of loneliness is not “just in your head.” Loneliness literally hurts. We process loneliness in the same region of our brain as we process physical pain.
Additionally, people who are lonely (whether this is in general or during the holidays) 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. When a person has social anxiety they rate their friendships as worse than their actual friends rate the same friendship. They are more sensitive around other people which naturally makes them more anxious. This creates a negative cycle. A person who is anxious around others will believe they are less likable or valued which will reinforce feelings of loneliness.
I’m intimately familiar with this painful cycle of loneliness. I spent many years convinced I was “unlovable” and so I would walk into a room assuming people didn’t or wouldn’t like me. Then I felt lonelier which made me feel more ashamed and broken. And the cycle continued. In only the last few years, I’ve been able to challenge my thought process. Just because my automatic thought sometimes is “people won’t like me” doesn’t make this true. Developing healthy boundaries has also helped tremendously. I understand now that not everyone will like me and this is also ok. Being confidently authentic is my priority now rather than seeking approval.
How to Cope with Holiday Loneliness
The antidote to loneliness, whether it’s during the holidays, or in general, is connection. This is both connecting with others as well as connecting with yourself.
Here are some strategies to cope with loneliness during the holidays (and beyond):
- Connect with your authentic self with journaling, meditation, visualizations of your future self, yoga, and breath work. If you want additional support in connecting with your authentic self, I highly encourage you to join my 4-week self-paced course, “Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself.” I would LOVE to see you in the community.
- 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.
- Connect with nature. Go on a hike. Take a walk in the park. Take a day trip to a lovely spot in nature nearby your town. Even if you don’t have anyone to go out with being in nature – even alone – reduces anxiety. It helps people feel more creative about how to solve their problems and increases self-confidence.
- Think about the connected future you want to create for yourself. Choose a word of what you want to attract for yourself when it comes to combatting loneliness. Is it community? Connection? Friends? Then create a vision board. 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 of al I did this at the beginning of 2021. Over 2020, I like many people, experienced loneliness. In 2021, my vision for the year was “Connect.” I created a vision board filled with images of the social connections I wanted to bring into my life. This visioning paid off too! Over the past year, I made more new friends than I have in the last 5 years combined. This was in part to joining a community for other entrepreneurs and a new book club. I received so much new connection that my partner and I both got engaged and eloped this year too!
- Seek support with a mental health professional. Sometimes, having a therapist helps us practice our skills of connecting with another person in a safe place.
- Call a helpline if needed.
- Develop a new tradition. Sometimes, our loneliness and depression increases over the holidays due to past negative holiday memories. This was true for me. Eventually, I began to reclaim the holidays by creating a new tradition in which myself and my loved ones watch Scrooged and eat tamales on Christmas Eve. Now I have something to look forward to unlike many of the past holidays.
- Get a pet. If you can take in an animal, you can experience dramatically less loneliness. When my loneliness was at its worst in my 20s, my beloved cat was a desperately needed lifeline for me.
- Get out of your head and outside ofthe loneliness by contributing to others. Research proves that volunteering is a profoundly effective way to reduce loneliness.
- 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.
- Journal about what comes to mind when you consider your worth & value as well as others’ acceptance or approval of you. Do you think you are a likable person or that people in general don’t understand you? What do you think about other people? Do you believe people, for the most part, are good-hearted or untrustworthy? What do you think about the value of friendship in your life? Do you have any intense negative memories of betrayal perhaps by a friend or partner that you often remember?
- When you do this journal exercise, notice if you have any strong negative beliefs about yourself or others that may act as barriers to connecting with others. If you have any strong negative beliefs or painful memories you feel stuck on, you may want to consider EMDR therapy. Many of my clients as well as myself personally have experienced profound transformation due to EMDR. I always say that the gift of this form of therapy is: It allows you to see reality clearly for what it is rather than through the lens of the past. Sometimes, when a memory hurts so much, it obscures the full truth of our history. Here’s an example of how this may play out: You may think “People don’t like me.” This belief, in part, comes from being bullied growing up. In EMDR you target this memory and eventually you will see “yes, I was bullied which was incredibly painful but I didn’t deserve that. Now, I also see that those kids were unkind in general. I also see that I had a couple friends growing up that I felt close to.”
- You can find an EMDR therapist here. Just search for your area with “EMDR” in the search bar. If you can’t find a therapist with availability or one that you can afford right now, Emotional Freedom Technique tapping may help. Research shows this self-help strategy reduces pain, anxiety, and depression (which are commonly felt when we are lonely).
You are Enough
The pain of being lonely can obscure the truth which is that you are inherently worthy and lovable. It is incredibly difficult to cope with loneliness when you are filled with the emotional and physical pain of this but there is absolutely hope. There is a life filled with connection and meaning on the other side of this. I encourage you to please try any of the coping strategies listed above to cope with your loneliness during the holidays and in general.
Please let me know how you personally implement these coping strategies! What word did you pick for your vision of the future? Where are you volunteering? What did you discover about your beliefs? What new tradition did you create?
If this list inspired you to create your own holiday loneliness coping strategies, please let me know in the comments. I’m am so hopeful for you. I’m truly here rooting you on!