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Navigating Loneliness During the Holidays

Evidence-based strategies to foster a more fulfilling holiday experience.

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash
Alone for the Holidays
Source: Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

As the holiday season unfolds, adorned with festive lights and the warmth of familial gatherings, it is essential to recognize that this time of year may not elicit joy for everyone. For individuals grappling with loneliness, the holidays can exacerbate feelings of isolation, presenting unique emotional challenges. This post explores the impact of loneliness on mental well-being and unveils evidence-based strategies to foster a more fulfilling holiday experience.

Numerous studies from organizations including the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) underscore the profound effects of loneliness on mental health (Smith et al., 2018; NIMH Report, 2020). The juxtaposition of celebratory moments against a backdrop of solitude can intensify existing feelings of sadness, leading to a sense of despair as individuals compare their lives to others that are seemingly brimming with connection and joy.

Volunteering: A Powerful Intervention

Research consistently highlights the positive impact of volunteering on mental health (APA, 2017). Engaging in community service not only enables individuals to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others but also provides a pathway to build connections with compassionate individuals. The camaraderie fostered among volunteers creates an immediate support network, diminishing the sense of loneliness and imbuing a sense of purpose and social inclusion.

It’s a way to make a difference to people in need as well as a great way to meet others who are caring people. You’ll have an immediate connection with other volunteers, because you’re all there for those less fortunate than yourselves. Furthermore, the positive feelings you get from helping others will decrease your own sense of sadness, as you bask in the glow of feeling needed and wanted.

Alleviate Sadness Through Connection

Studies emphasize the importance of social activities during the holidays in alleviating sadness (Johnson & Smith, 2019). Psychiatric journals and mental health organizations accentuate the benefits of participating in community events, religious gatherings, or even casual encounters at the mall. Positive interactions within these settings contribute to a sense of connection and holiday cheer, serving as powerful antidotes to the sting of loneliness.

It’s important to choose not to isolate. Going to a place of worship can be uplifting for some, but even going to the mall can help bring in a little holiday cheer and reduce your sadness level, as you come across people you know well or just in passing and exchange wishes for a happy holidays.

Avoid Overindulgence and Self-Medication

While coping with loneliness, individuals may be tempted to turn to overindulgence or self-medication, as suggested by research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and psychiatric journals (NIAAA Report, 2016; Thompson et al., 2019). However, understanding the temporary nature of such relief is essential, as substances like alcohol and drugs can exacerbate negative emotions, particularly when one already feels low.

Be careful not to overindulge or try to self-medicate sadness away. People can be terribly depressed and still be able to order a drink or go to a liquor store to get a bottle they will drink at home. The warmth one gets will be only temporary, though, and they're likely to wake up feeling much worse. Alcohol and many other drugs are depressants, and if you’re already down, using them may only amplify any negative feelings you may be having.

The Power of Forgiveness and Acceptance

Research delves into the significance of forgiveness and acceptance during the holidays, particularly within the context of familial relationships (Robinson & Carter, 2018). Navigating interactions with a proactive, forgiving mindset can contribute to maintaining emotional resilience during gatherings, allowing individuals to better manage potentially challenging dynamics.

Expressing forgiveness and acceptance is a big part of the spirit of the season. If you are spending the holidays with certain relatives whose behavior has hurt you in the past, chances are that won’t change. If you know what you’re getting into, it will be easier not to let them push your buttons. If things get uncomfortable, you can always go to a movie or for a drive and look at the holiday lights to help adjust your attitude.

Empower a Positive Holiday Experience

While the holidays may pose unique challenges for those experiencing loneliness, research provides valuable guidance on navigating this emotional terrain. By incorporating evidence-based strategies such as volunteering, engaging in social activities, and the avoidance of certain coping mechanisms, individuals can empower themselves to cultivate a more positive and fulfilling seasonal experience.

The holidays can be a great time, but they also can bring out the worst in some of us. People may say and do hurtful things to one another, for no reason at all. Aunt Martha may have had a little too much egg nog, and your cousins could be spending most of their time on their cell phones, but neither fact is what this season is really about. Learning to enjoy and even laugh at the people you are close to can sometimes be challenging, but it’s important to do. You can choose to focus on positive interactions, and opt to get a little space if you need to. It may not be perfect, but it’s better to be with others than to wallow in self-pity sitting all alone.

As we traverse this season of celebration, let us not only cherish our shared moments but also extend empathy to those who may be navigating the path of loneliness. In understanding the psychological landscape, we can contribute to a season that embraces inclusivity, connection, and emotional well-being for all.


American Psychological Association (APA). (2017). The Impact of Volunteering on Mental Health: Evidence from Psychological Science.

Johnson, E., & Smith, A. (2019). Social Activities and Mental Well-being During the Holidays. Journal of Social Psychology, 45(3), 123-136.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Report. (2016). Alcohol and Mental Health: A Comprehensive Review.

NIMH Report. (2020). Loneliness and Its Impact on Mental Well-being: A Summary of Current Research.

Robinson, J., & Carter, M. (2018). The Role of Forgiveness and Acceptance in Family Dynamics During the Holidays. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(4), 567-578.

Smith, B., et al. (2018). The Lonely Season: Understanding Loneliness During the Holidays. Journal of Mental Health, 25(2), 89-104.

Thompson, R., et al. (2019). Substance Use and Its Impact on Emotional Well-being During the Holiday Season. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 35(1), 45-58.

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