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7 Ways to Combat Holiday Loneliness

Effective ways to boost your mood this time of year.

Key points

  • It's normal to feel a little down around the holidays.
  • Nostalgia brings up positive memories but may also make us more aware of who and what we've lost.
  • Staying connected to others is important to well-being, as isolation can magnify our feelings of sadness.

Recognize that it’s normal to feel nostalgic at this time of year; whether you’re in a house full of people or all alone, it’s not unusual to miss people who are no longer with you and to feel lonely during this time. Everything we see, from Hallmark movies to commercials, suggests that we all have big families to gather together with at the holidays, but that’s just a fantasy for so many of us!

We also have to accept that not every family is a happy family – and sometimes spending time with acrimonious family members or those who have harmed you in the past is the last thing you want to do during the holidays. Remind yourself that it is okay if you need to care for yourself by avoiding certain family members or certain places. Self-care should always be a priority and especially during the holidays.

When loneliness becomes a concern you want to address, here are seven ways to combat holiday loneliness:

1. Put Something to Look Forward to on Your Calendar

Even if you’re choosing to spend a holiday on your own, you might want to plan to spend the day doing something you genuinely enjoy. Whether you’ve got a book you want to read, a trip to the movies, a visit to a special place, a television show you want to binge, a DVR full of schmaltz old movies you want to watch, a new kitchen gadget you want to try out, or a favorite meal you want to prepare – put this on your calendar and circle it in your favorite color. Maybe put a countdown on your phone. This will help you focus on something other than any downside you feel creeping into the solo holiday.

2. Even Brief Conversations Have Important Benefits

Use your loneliness as motivation to get out into the world and engage with others. Whether it’s a chat with the grocery store clerk, a conversation with the Salvation Army Santa, or pleasantries with people you pass on your walk. Connecting with others briefly will help us feel less alone and boost our moods. Just exchanging smiles with others helps, too!

3. Invite Others Into Your Life

If you have a special talent, like drawing, cooking, knitting, or other handiwork, offer to teach others the craft. If you love to bake cookies and feel like you have no one to share them with, invite neighbors – adults, teens, and children – over to try out your latest recipe.

4. Enjoy Your Community’s Holiday Offerings

Seek out holiday events that are free and easy to access – recreation centers, libraries, museums, places of worship, and local colleges often have community programs this time of year that brings together people. Even if you’re not particularly crafty, go to a crafting lesson. If you’re not particularly religious, attend a service to feel connected with others or to join in the singing – singing is another activity that can boost the feel-good endorphins.

5. Call or Text People You Care About

Reach out to people you care about or have lost touch with over the years – everyone likes being thought about and remembered, and a quick phone call or even a text message will let you feel more connected to others, will give the recipient a warm feeling, and an opportunity to meet up in person may even result – but don’t count on being able to fit in someone else’s holiday schedule.

6. Volunteering Can Change Your Perspective

Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. This is such a great way to spend time with others who are as invested in helping others as you are, and it also gets you into the company of other people on a shared mission. This alone can build a sense of connection that can uplift your mood and help you feel that your efforts are valued. While giving to a charity also makes us feel good and generates a sense of well-being, volunteering alongside others can give you a “giver’s high” similar to the “runner’s high” that folks experience. There is something about doing good in the world that changes our own self-image, boosts our self-esteem, and makes us feel the world isn’t such a lonely place after all.

7. Create New Solo Traditions

Create a new solo holiday tradition that reflects your special interests – not those of others you may have tried to please in the past. Whether it’s visiting a special place, listening to particular pieces of music, watching a specific movie, or enjoying a special food – create a tradition that brings you satisfaction and is something you would look forward to in the future.

When It’s More Than Just Feeling the Holiday Blues

When your symptoms seem more severe than just the holiday blues, you may need to seek out professional help. When you feel that you cannot get out of bed in the mornings if your appetite has changed dramatically – either eating much more than normal or you’re eating significantly less than normal, and you feel helpless to cope with your feelings, reaching out for help may be an important step to take to begin to feel more optimistic about life and the future.