The holidays can be an incredibly busy time for our social calendar as we share in festivities with family and friends. For many of us, however, the holidays can amplify feelings of loneliness and isolation. Strange as it may seem, you are most certainly not alone in feeling lonely during the holiday season. In fact, several studies have found that a growing number of Americans are experiencing feelings of loneliness or “the winter blues”, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. So, what can make “the most wonderful time of the year” feel not so wonderful?
Some causes of holiday loneliness:
Not everyone has an immediate and loving support system
The holidays can be especially hard for those who don’t have close friends or family to celebrate with. Some of us may have strained relations with our family or may have lost a loved one. This grief can be intensified when we are confronted by scenes of happy family gatherings throughout the holiday season.
The holidays can bring many triggers
Going home for the holidays can be difficult for many of us, especially if we have some unresolved issues or differences with our family members. Holiday food, drinks, financial stress, and end-of-year work deadlines can all take us away from the joy in the holidays and send us into a place of overwhelm. Even a packed social calendar can contribute to loneliness! When we feel burnt out and overstimulated, we can find it hard to connect with others.
Expectations are not reality
Holiday commercials, movies, decorations and non-stop music can easily make a bad mood worse. We see and hear the ideal of how we are “supposed to feel”. When our experience doesn’t match what we see on our social media feeds, we are prone to negative self-comparison. We can easily begin to shame ourselves for not feeling joyful and connected to loved ones when we compare our realities to the picture-perfect images curated on our screens.
Hope to cope:
Reach out to those around you.
When we feel lonely, we can sometimes feel the urge to isolate from others even more. Try to counteract this isolation by taking an opposite action. Reach out to loved ones or friends you haven’t seen in a while. Remember that “family” can look different for everyone and all forms of support and connection are valid. Say yes to invitations for holiday gatherings and try to prioritize the relationships in your life. It can help to distract from negative feelings and actively work on combatting loneliness.
Cultivate space for you own holiday traditions
When we aren’t feeling our best, it is hard to remember that we can create our own moments of joy. Carve out time to spend on a favorite activity like baking or reading Watch a holiday movie you enjoy or try something new altogether! Lean into the coziness of the season and honor small traditions and rituals that will make you feel good.
Set realistic expectations
By now, we are all aware that advertisements and social media set us up for unrealistic standards. Still, it can become demoralizing when our lives don’t match up to what we see online. It may be best to limit exposure to social media during the season or take a break altogether. Nobody wins the comparison game, especially when we are feeling lonely. Take the time aware to focus on your own joy and self-care.
By the end of the year, we can easily feel burnt out and depleted. Make it a priority to get back to healthy habits when it comes to things like movement, nutrition and sleep. Slowing down and going back to the basics can serve as a subtle, but important reboot that will help boost our moods and mindset.
Be kind to yourself
It is okay to feel lonely during the holidays and you are certainly not alone. The greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others is gentle kindness. Remember that the feelings of loneliness we experience, like the holiday itself, are temporary and will pass with time. While frustrating, acknowledging the feelings and taking small actions to help ourselves feel even a little better can go a long way.
Alexis is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist serving adults and couples virtually throughout California.
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