What do you do when the most wonderful time of the year is far less than wonderful for you? That’s often how loneliness and mental health struggles can feel during the holidays for many of us.
In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of individuals living with a mental illness felt that their conditions worsened around the holidays.1 On top of that, a 2020 survey reported that 7 in 10 people felt lonely, with 1 in 10 people reporting extreme loneliness, heading into the holiday season.2
This is a big deal. Whether you’re feeling lonely due to a breakup or divorce, friendships ending or in conflict, mental health struggles, loss, being physically isolated, comparing yourself to people’s highlight reel on social media, or any other reason, we hope you see that you’re not alone.
Reasons for Increased Loneliness
Some of you may know exactly why this holiday season is feeling lonely and extra difficult for you. But, some of you may have no idea, and that’s okay too. We're addressing a few reasons for increased loneliness during this time of year below. However, this isn’t an exhaustive list. If you can’t resonate with any of these, just know that what you’re feeling is 100% valid.
1. Physical Isolation
Being physically isolated can have a huge impact on feeling lonely. After all, we were created to be in community and pursue connection with others. However, scenarios such as breakups, being single, living alone, and facing obstacles to being around people (i.e. health reasons) all contribute to a spike in loneliness during the holidays.
2. Feeling Disconnected
Maybe your problem isn’t being isolated from others, but rather feeling disconnected with those you do spend time around. Loneliness is not just based on our physical being, but our mental and emotional states as well. Feeling a lack of quality relationships despite being around people can negatively impact our minds and emotions.
3. Busy Schedules
The holiday season may be joyful, but it’s often jam-packed as well. Parties and events, work deadlines closing in, preparing for time together, kids out of school, shopping for gifts—these are all things that can pile up and become overwhelming. You can’t possibly keep up because you simply can’t do it all. Yet, the hustle and bustle, and resulting stress, often keep us from truly connecting with ourselves, our loved ones, and our present moment. This means that regardless of how many people you see or events you go to, you may still feel a spike in loneliness, stress, or other mental health problems.
4. Mental Health Struggles
Even though the holidays are “supposed” to be joyful, happy, and cheerful, that’s not always the case for those struggling with their mental health. Unfortunately, mental health doesn’t get the memo of what time of year it is. Even if you don’t deal with these issues on a regular basis, Winter can bring less sunshine, more clouds and colder temps that keep us inside—all things that contribute to things such as seasonal depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). There is often a strong correlation between mental health problems and loneliness. If you're experiencing this, you're not alone.
5. The Holidays Are Hard
We can’t write about the holiday season without acknowledging that it’s just plain hard sometimes. There are expectations of perfect get-togethers and being able to “do it all”, not to mention comparing ourselves to every perfectly-crafted ad and social media profile we see. You probably feel tired and drained a lot. And on top of that, not every holiday get-together is cheerful, especially when it comes to family that doesn't get along, getting into arguments, or struggling to set boundaries.
7 Coping Strategies
Regardless of the reason you’re struggling with loneliness right now, we want you to know there’s hope for you. Check out these 7 tips to help you cope with loneliness and disconnection this holiday season.
1. Remember, It’s Okay To Feel This Way
There is nothing wrong with you for feeling the way that you do right now. Even though it feels incredibly uncomfortable, feeling this way is not the end of the world. The truth is, you won’t always feel merry and bright around the holidays—regardless of how you’re spending them—and that’s okay.
What's important is making space to acknowledge, name, and feel your feelings. Don’t try to ignore them or shove them deep down inside; instead, learn to express your emotions in a healthy way. The more you practice accepting your feelings as normal and valid, the easier coping with them and moving through this season and life will be.
Angela Ficken, a licensed clinical social worker, puts it perfectly, “It’s OK to feel lonely and to experience that emotion. Loneliness is just a feeling and you don’t have to push it away just because it might feel bad. All feelings give us important information. While feeling lonely might not be the greatest experience in the world, being present with it could help you gain more insight into what you are needing at that moment.” 3
2. Take Time for Yourself
Taking time to be by yourself when you’re already feeling lonely and/or isolated may sound counterintuitive, but it’s crucial. This time alone helps you to check in with yourself, figure out what you’re needing, and provide that for yourself. Plus, doing something fun or special can help you make the most of your time alone and help boost your mood.
Mark off time on your calendar to do something that you love or that relaxes you. Create your own self-care routine or try something new that you’ve always wanted to. There are so many opportunities to do things, especially during the holiday season. Check out Christmas lights in your neighborhood, bake a yummy treat, have a Christmas movie marathon, make a snowman or go sledding at the park, listen to holiday music and have a dance party—all of these can be done to have some holiday fun even if you’re flying solo this year.
Lastly, part of taking time for yourself is also taking care of yourself. Try your best to keep up with your healthy habits such as nourishing your body, spending time in nature, getting some movement in, sleeping and getting rest, and learning tohandlestress.
Even if you can’t make time (after all, we only have a limited 24 hours in a day), you can take time out of your schedule to take care of yourself. Your survival of the holidays may depend on it.
3. Make Plans and Reach Out
If you’re feeling lonely, make the effort to reach out and connect with people. Grab dinner with friends or coworkers, FaceTime your family member in a different state, start a conversation with your neighbor. We know it may feel difficult to reach out, but it’s likely that the people you wish would reach out to you might be thinking and feeling the same way. You going first can lead to a lot of great connections.
While this all may seem obvious, sometimes thinking there has to be a big planned get together stops us from reaching out. So, this is your reminder that even small ways of connecting can be meaningful. And, even if you can’t be with people, simply being around them helps too. Try going to a coffee shop to work, taking a book to the park to read, or working out at the local gym.
4. Give Back to Your Community
When you’re feeling lonely, getting involved in and giving back to your community can be a great way to lift your mood. Not only does volunteering surround you with others so that you aren’t physically alone, it can also create a sense of joy and purpose in your life—both things that are often lacking when we feel alone. Check out places such as soup kitchens, animal shelters, retirement homes, food or clothing donation organizations, or places that do toy-drives. These types of organizations often could use extra helping hands when it comes to the holiday season. You can also ask your neighbors how you can help or fill a need when you see one. Lastly, spreading random acts of kindness goes a long way for both you and those around you.
5. Start New Traditions
Part of the holiday season revolves around traditions, some of which you may have shared with friends or family for years, possibly since childhood. When we aren't able to do those things anymore, the holidays can oftentimes become lonely and sad for us. If this is you, we get it, and we know it’s hard. At the same time, we also want to encourage you to not let this stop you from creating new traditions and memories for yourself.
Bake Christmas cookies while listening to music…buy yourself a tree for your apartment or house…have a movie marathon…go for a walk and look at Christmas lights…start a holiday bucket list of the things you want to see, taste, try, etc…DIY your own decor…learn a Christmas song on an instrument ...the options are endless!
We know all of this is easy to say yet hard to do, but we believe that overall, it’s worth giving it a shot. You can still make special memories this holiday season!
6. Limit Social Media
While social media can certainly help us connect with others, it can also cause a whole lot of hurt, especially in regards to mental health and loneliness around the holidays. Everywhere you look on the apps, it seems there are perfect-looking photos of people and holiday events while you’re stuck at home in your pjs eating ice cream straight from the carton. Or, maybe while scrolling, you see photos of your ex and his/her new life which reopens the wound, or you get FOMO from the things your friends are doing but you aren’t. While it may feel nice to zone out and scroll for hours, in the long run, it will leave you feeling worse off, more lonely, and potentially even depressed or anxious.
In fact, a study at the University of Copenhagen found that too much Facebook browsing during the holidays season, and consequently seeing all the “perfect” families and holiday photos, is more likely to make people miserable than festive.4 Other negative effects of social media, especially during this time of year, include low self-esteem, poor sleep habits, worsened mental health, a fear of isolation or missing out, and unrealistic standards and comparisons.
We’re not saying to eliminate social media altogether, especially if that’s a significant way for you to stay connected to others this season (although, if you want to delete it completely, more power to you). But, we are saying to limit the time you spend on the apps, the amount of scrolling you do at a time, and the content you consume. Instead, focus on being present to whatever your holiday season looks like this year and doing your best to make the most of it.
7. Rethink Your Expectations
As we mentioned above, social media can create unrealistic expectations and standards of what the holidays should look like. When we have expectations, the gap between those and our reality is what can cause disappointment. That’s why we recommend you rethink your expectations for your holiday season.
This doesn’t mean that you have to ignore your wants and desires or give up your plans for the season. However, it’s good to go in with the knowledge that events won’t always go as planned or things won’t be perfect like a Hallmark movie. Accepting this and doing the next best thing can help you cope with the loneliness and still have fun. For example, realizing it’s okay to take a good friend to a holiday party rather than “the perfect date”, or that a gift from the heart is better than the “perfect” gift that takes you days of stress or lots of money to find.
You can’t do it all this holiday season but you can make the most of what time, opportunities, abilities, and memories you do get.
Talk to Someone
Sometimes the holiday blues are more serious and debilitating. When this is the case, the coping strategies we mentioned above probably won’t do the trick. Instead, reaching out to talk to someone and/or seeking professional help is best.
If you find yourself in a crisis or emergency situation, the 988 hotline (call or text) is a great resource for 24/7 support.
Last, but not least, if you’re looking for a free way to talk to someone and get the support you need, we can help. We partner with caring individuals at local churches and ministries who care about you and want to listen and be there for you. Click below to get connected.