It’s not as easy as just ~getting out there~.
I’ll just say it: the holidays are an awful time to deal with loneliness. Pretty much everything about the season urges you to be ~merry and bright~, and there’s all this emphasis on togetherness and family. If that’s not your reality — if you have gone through a loss or a breakup, live in a city far from home, are dealing with poor mental health, don’t have a strong support system, or have any one of the million reasons you might be lonely — all the cultural expectations of the holidays can exacerbate your loneliness or straight up make you feel lonely in the first place.
To help, BuzzFeed Health talked to therapists about the things you can do to look after yourself or alleviate those not-fun feelings. Because holiday loneliness comes in so many shades, not all of these tips will be helpful for you. You’ll want to examine the root of your own loneliness and do a gut check about whether or not something will actually help you. If your instincts say something will make you you feel worse or more lonely, don’t force it.
Marissa Korda / The Loneliness Project / Via Instagram: @thelonelinessproject
First, adjust your expectations about what the holidays are *supposed* to be like and give yourself permission to feel shitty.
Don’t get me wrong, this is absolutely easier said than done. Telling yourself that it’s okay not to have the “typical” holiday season doesn’t magically erase how you’re feeling or your desire to have that experience. But resolving not to bother putting on a brave face, to yourself or to others, can be freeing and lessen the weight of the season just a little.
“Give yourself permission to not have to be as jolly as everybody says you have to be,” Andrea Bonior, clinical psychologist and author of Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World tells BuzzFeed Health. “Say to yourself, ‘Some days this season might not be great and that’s okay. I don’t have to force holiday spirit.’”
Thinkstock / Sally Tamarkin / Via buzzfeed.com
Don’t reach out to toxic people or randomly couple up in an attempt to feel less lonely.
Cuffing season is a thing for a reason — it’s natural to want to connect with someone, anyone, just so you don’t have to brave this sentimental season alone. So, you might be tempted to backslide into old relationships, romantic or otherwise, or get more serious with someone you otherwise wouldn’t. “Be mindful of those choices you’re making and try not to get sucked into making yourself feel better through false pretenses,” says Bonior.
But do think of people who you could reach out to, even in a small way.
“Think about the people in your life you do actually enjoy, and how you can connect with them a little more during this time,” Bonior suggests. Maybe it’s just scheduling a phone call with somebody you usually text with while they’re home with their family. Maybe it’s hitting up a casual friend for coffee because you know they’re also staying in town for Christmas.
Disney / Via giphy.com
Resist the urge to totally isolate yourself, even if it means just going somewhere where other people will be and not actually interacting with them.
For a lot of people, depending on why you’re feeling lonely, loneliness feeds on itself and it’s easy to get stuck in a hard cycle — and in this case, pushing yourself a little can really help you feel better, even if taking the initial step is hard. This is especially true for people whose loneliness comes from a place of depression or anxiety, says Bonior.
“The worst thing for loneliness is to sit around and think about how lonely you are,” says Dehorty. “Just get out. Do something. Walk around. Go to an event. Go be where people are. It doesn’t have to be everything, just some stuff that you find appealing. It will be beneficial.”
Or give yourself permission to isolate a little.
Sometimes you just need a break and hiding away from the world really can help, says Bonior. Maybe due to circumstances in your life — like, maybe you just went through a breakup or lost a loved one — the idea of going out and seeing people having a merry freakin’ holiday sounds like nothing short of torture. In that case, be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to cocoon up away from the world and self-soothe for a couple of days.
But again, if you’re finding that doing that for days at a time leaves you feeling more lonely and miserable, then it’s probably a sign you should push yourself a little more and consider getting out there. Which is where the whole “don’t isolate” advice comes back into play.
Loryn Brantz / BuzzFeed / Via Facebook: BuzzFeedComics
Take care of your basic self-care needs, please.
Both Dehorty and Bonior — and most mental health professionals, tbh — note that nutrition, sleep, and exercise are the foundation of self-care. When you’re not looking after those properly, most negative emotions you’re dealing with will be exacerbated. Try not to sleep too much or too little, work in some movement in your day (it doesn’t even have to be *exercise* if you’re not feeling up for it), and don’t skip meals or feed your emotions with total garbage. Once you take care of that, everything else will come a tiny bit more easily.
If your loneliness stems from not being around your chosen family during the holidays, celebrate with them before or after the actual day.
For some people, the holidays mean getting separated from the people who really support you in favor of stressful mandatory family time, which can be so lonely. If that’s the case, bookend your less-than-desirable obligations with other plans, suggests Dehorty. You don’t have to stick to the calendar, so celebrate the holidays for *real* whenever you can do it with the people you actually want to be around.
Get off the social media where you’re most likely to see people you know having #PicturePerfect holidays.
Subjecting yourself to an onslaught of holiday party pictures and family portraits is probably going to make you more lonely, says Bonior. If you want to do a full-on social media cleanse, by all means do it. It can be refreshing and necessary to get a break from that stuff. But you could also, for example, just go easy on Facebook and Instagram, where you’re most likely to see festive pictures that feel like picking a scab when you look at them — but stay on Tumblr and Twitter where you can find solidarity in absurdist memes and other people having miserable holidays, too.
Disney / Via Facebook: buzzfeedrewind
Lastly, redefine the holiday season in your terms and celebrate — or don’t celebrate — accordingly.
So, scores of holiday commercials and movies and songs have driven the point home: The holidays are supposed to be about being around loved ones, warmth, gifts, festivity, blah, blah, blah. But like, that doesn’t have to be true at all. Maybe this time is about giving back. Maybe it’s about self-betterment or self-exploration. Maybe it’s about saving money or getting your life in order or organizing your home. Maybe it’s even about catching up on all the TV you’ve fallen behind on or reading as many books for pleasure as possible.
“Maybe this holiday or this season is about something different for you,” says Dehorty. “Make it whatever you want it to be.”