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How to Cope with Loneliness over the Holidays

Adults |

Most of us tend to spend the holidays with loved ones and family members – whether they’re our “chosen” family, our in-laws, or our parents and siblings we’ve known our entire lives. Though there are many people who voluntarily decide not to spend this time of year with relatives for a variety of very valid reasons (if they harm one’s mental health, for example), there are also many who wish they could be with their families this year but are just unable to. If you’re recently mourning the loss of a relationship, the holiday season can feel particularly melancholy. Whether most of your family lives on the other side of the world, you are just fresh out of vacation days at work and unable to travel, or you just tend to feel lonely around the holidays, here are some ways to buffer the sting of being alone and/or missing out on the festivities. 

First, embrace your feelings rather than deny them

Repeatedly denying your feelings doesn’t make them go away – we promise. Distance yourself from your emotions just enough so that you’re able to acknowledge them but not allow them to overwhelm your entire mental headspace. Notice your internal monologue – what are you saying to yourself when you feel sad or are intensely wishing you could be with your family? Rather than attempting to squish your feelings down by distracting yourself with something else, be honest with yourself and accept their presence. Let yourself feel them enough to be able to address them productively – the more you repress feelings, the more likely they are to leak out sideways into other parts of your life in ways you won’t expect.

Focus on the good

While you want to acknowledge any feelings of sadness, or loneliness, or missing out, try not to let yourself wallow in them. Try to focus on what you’re thankful to have around you instead, like a warm meal, a comfy bed, or good friends and neighbours. You don’t want your negative feelings to overwhelm any potential joy you could get from all the good happening around you. Rather than think about how much you miss your family, try to reflect positively on the memories you’ve already made – tap back into that joy you felt then. Make a list of three things you’re grateful to have in your life – expressing gratitude for what is going right helps put the bad into perspective.

Do something you love

Do something just for yourself that reliably boosts your mood. This could be something as simple as listening to your favourite podcast, going for walk with a friend, picking up a book you’ve been wanting to read for a while, or even a relaxing activity like painting or woodworking. If nothing sounds good to you, try something new! Check out that community yoga group or weekly game night at the local watering hole. If calling your family and hearing their voices will make you feel closer to them and improve your mood, give them a ring. When you’re missing someone, sometimes just hearing their voice can do wonders for making the distance between you feel smaller and perking you back up.

Volunteer

One of the best ways to counteract any loneliness you’re feeling and lift your spirits is to shift the focus from your own negative feelings to showing kindness and compassion to someone else. Head to a local soup kitchen, food bank, or community centre and volunteer some of your time. Offer to mow your elderly neighbour’s lawn or donate old winter clothes you really don’t need anymore to your local homeless shelter. Helping others is one of the best and quickest ways to make you feel better, and by definition helps someone else out in the process. 

Remember that feelings are temporary occurrences, not permanent labels

Though the feeling of “missing” someone can sometimes feel piercingly painful, it’s important to tell yourself in moments like these that this feeling is temporary and will go away. If we’re not careful, we can easily amalgamate these temporary negative feelings with our self-talk and the way we see ourselves. It’s not hard when you’re feeling lonely or sad to say things to yourself that confound the two together, such as “why am I always such a sad person?” When you’re feeling down in the dumps, try to remember to tell yourself that how you’re feeling is only that – a temporary feeling – and it will pass. Of course, if you’re not able to get yourself out of these feelings for weeks and months at a time, it may be time to seek professional help. 

The most important thing to remember is that all feelings are valid and acceptable. The best way to deal with negative ones is to first accept that it’s ok to feel them sometimes, and if you can’t make yourself feel better right away, that’s ok too. Cry it out if you need to and give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling, without feeling guilty or less-than for it. When you’re ready to start trying to feel better, try out some of these ideas and see what happens!