For most of us, the holiday season is truly the most wonderful time of the year. Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Easter, Ramadan, Diwali, or even New Year, such events are meant to be celebrated with family and loved ones.
Unfortunately, many people have neither, or are living somewhere far away from their nearest and dearest.
They may have recently lost a spouse or partner, gone through a recent break-up, have a social anxiety disorder (SAD), or don’t have close relationships with family or friends. For them, the holiday season can be a terribly lonely experience that intensifies feelings of sadness, isolation, and stress.
If you have ever spent an important holiday alone, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. While the rest of the world is enjoying the festivities, you have no one to talk to but yourself or the cat, and that isn’t much fun. Often, the build-up to the celebrations is even worse, making you feel anxious just at the thought of it.
While you overhear others talking about their exciting plans for the upcoming occasion, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself and fall into a kind of seasonal depression. You may even feel angry, jealous, or resentful, turning into a miserable grinch for a few days who can’t wait until all the festivities are over.
The problem with Christmas
For the purpose of this article, I’m going to be talking about being alone at Christmas, although everything you read could also apply to any other day in your festive calendar. The main problem with these big celebrations is that they are highly commercialized and we can’t get away from them so easily.
Everyone is expected to be happy, generous, and giving. That sounds great in theory, but if you have no friends or family, it can make you feel as if you are the odd one out. If you don’t have any good reason to ‘feel happy’ on demand, it can all become like some sort of enforced merriment that you don’t want to, or can’t, participate in.
All of the hype in the weeks leading up to Christmas can also place a lot of financial pressure on many of us and add to our concerns over money problems or debts. We can easily fall into the trap of comparing our lives to others, wishing we had more money, more energy, more family or friends. This sense of lacking in some way is highlighted much more over the holiday season.
There is also a lot of pressure to be sociable at this time of year, with office parties arranged, lavish restaurants booked, and lots of people getting together to be merry. You might find these kinds of gatherings stressful under normal circumstances, and especially at Christmas, where there is an expectation to join in.
Intimidating questions like, “What are you doing for Christmas?” loom in the air, leading you to feel awkward if you haven’t got anything planned.
Even simple questions such as, “What did you get for Christmas?” can add to the misery when you have no one to give to or receive gifts from. Occasions like Christmas can quite often be dominated by family conflicts, memories of those you have lost, or a reminder of your loneliness. The stress of that leads many people to think deeply about the negative events in their lives.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic forced most of us into long periods of social distancing, making it impossible to spend time with loved ones. All in all, it really isn’t easy to get through any holiday season if you are alone.
Looking at life differently
I’m not going to allow you to feel sorry for yourself, no matter what your circumstances are. You may have very valid reasons for feeling down over the holiday period, and it’s not my intention to undermine them.
Life is what it is and we all go through difficult times that are often out of our control.
The way we look at life IS in our control though, and it’s in our hands to pick ourselves up, switch our mindset, and see things from a different perspective. I know how it feels to be alone at Christmas. One year, I was taking some workshops in Perth, Australia, and had booked a flight to return home to the UK on Christmas Eve.
Unfortunately, it was canceled at the last minute due to bad weather, and I had to spend Christmas Day alone in the airport hotel with only the mini-bar for comfort. All of my plans to spend the holiday with my husband and children were dashed, and I was totally gutted.
It was during that time that I began to think about why we get so stressed out over being alone on days like Christmas. It struck me that we can avoid these intense reactions and cope much better when we become more proactive. Instead of adopting a victim mentality, there are plenty of alternatives that will leave us feeling joyous and content.
You don’t have to be alone at Christmas and there are ways to spend it with people who might be in exactly the same situation as you.
The three stages of coping
1). Firstly, it’s important to look at your mental state and question why you are feeling lonely in the first place. Do you feel like this every day, or just at holiday time? Certainly, if you have been battling loneliness for a while, bringing everything to the surface at Christmas is probably not a good idea.
You need to examine the issue well before that and seek professional help if you suffer from anxiety or depression. Accepting that you are alone is crucial, and deciding to make the most of your day, no matter what is the right approach to take.
2). Secondly, there are many activities you can get involved in to spend Christmas Day with others. You can offer to do voluntary work, help in a hospice, a retirement home, or a soup kitchen for the homeless.
Extra hands are always needed at Christmas as it is the time when charities do a lot of work within the community and any additional help they can get will be much appreciated. It will also give you the opportunity to see that there are many people in a much worse position than you and that you have the capacity to bring them happiness.
3). Thirdly, now is the time to plan ahead for next year to ensure that you won’t be alone by then if you would prefer to have company. You can book an off-season vacation, or organize in advance a trip with people who are also likely to be alone this time next year. In the meantime, you have another 12 months to try to improve your social life, make new friends, and patch up any family differences.
The main thing I want to stress here is that you have a choice about how you want to spend Christmas or any major holiday. Grieving, loss, and feelings of sadness are valid emotions, and if you prefer to stay at home by yourself, that is your call. If you find yourself in this situation, learn how to work through your grief and find a place in your heart and mind for acceptance.
This will relieve you of a lot of pain and help you to move on. On the other hand, if you feel miserable because you would really prefer to have company, look for ways that you can be part of a communal spirit through volunteering your time to a worthy cause. Here are some practical strategies to help you.
Overcoming loneliness at Christmas
Although everyone around you seems to be caught up in the Christmas hype, you don’t have to succumb to the pressure if you don’t want to. Relax, take a walk, watch TV, read a book, and simply sail through it doing things you enjoy. That may seem hard to do, but why allow what is going on around you to affect your well-being?
Spoil yourself and do the things that make you feel special, whether that is buying yourself a gift, indulging in your favorite snacks, or spending the day in your pyjamas. Without the pressure to be somewhere else, or cook an enormous lunch for guests, you can savor the time you have to yourself.
Revise your expectations. It’s tempting to build your hopes up and believe that you will be able to meet up with friends or family at the last minute. Although that would be nice, it could be a pipedream, so don’t bet on it.
Instead, make your own plans for the day and arrange something that will suit you. Buy yourself a nice bottle of wine or schedule a good movie to watch. Don’t wait for others to make you feel happy – you can do that very easily by yourself.
Ask around at your local community centers, places of worship, charities, and nonprofit organizations to see if they could use your help on Christmas day.
You will be surprised to find that this is a very gratifying way to celebrate, even with people you have never met before. You could be commandeered to help serve the Christmas lunch or asked to be part of the entertainment. Whatever you do, you certainly won’t feel lonely and will forget about your own worries very quickly.
Stay away from social media over the holiday season. Seeing images of party-goers, revelers, and happy families can bring up negative emotions and painful memories.
Even watching Christmas movies can make you feel overwhelmed and if that is the case, opt for something that doesn’t revolve around people trying to get home for Christmas.
Check to see if any of your neighbors will also be spending Christmas alone and invite them over for lunch. They may not be able to get out due to a disability, so you could arrange to visit them and even buy a small gift.
After all, Christmas, like many holiday celebrations, is about giving, and that’s a feel-good gesture in itself.
Try to plan mentally for the approaching holiday and be prepared to see your emotions or stress intensify as the day looms nearer. Don’t leave it until you feel totally wretched and organize something that will prevent you from dwelling on your problems.
Find creative ways to spend your time, such as doing some DIY or going for a long hike.
If you are simply apart from your loved ones, arrange to call them or set a time for a video call. This will help you to overcome your loneliness and you can chat with them for as long as you want to. Call an old friend and catch up with their news. Christmas gives you the perfect opportunity to do this, as it is also a time for reconciliation and well-wishing.
Don’t celebrate Christmas at all! It’s only one day in the year and by tomorrow, it will be over. I once found myself alone on New Year’s Eve and put myself in the mind frame of it being just another day in the week. I bought a big box of chocolates, watched one of my favorite movies, and had a wonderful time!
Help yourself to have a very merry Christmas, despite your current situation, with the above tips. If you still feel it is hard to cope, don’t forget that there are many support groups out there to help you. Even talking to a friendly voice at the Samaritans can be extremely beneficial when you are feeling at your lowest and they have trained volunteers to counsel you.
If you are suffering from any kind of social anxiety disorder, contact your mental health services and seek support well before the holiday season arrives.
Take your happiness seriously and don’t let anything spoil that. Living a solitary life doesn’t have to mean that you suffer. Instead, make the most of your time alone, get involved in any community activities, and plan for the coming year. Who knows, by that time, you may be surrounded by new friends and creating wonderful memories together.
- The holiday season can accentuate existing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Realign your perspectives on being alone and create a new mindset.
- Follow the three stages of coping.
- Take action to be with others by volunteering your time to a worthy cause.
- Overcome feelings of loneliness by applying several of the strategies.