By Eli Follick
This year, I find myself facing the holiday season alone. In previous Decembers, my wife and my children made the holidays special. There were decorations, parties, trips, shopping, special meals, and warm, pleasant evenings around the fireplace. That was before my wife died and my boys, now married, moved to other states for their careers. I became lonely.
Ultimately, a therapist helped me to learn how to get past the feeling of helpless loneliness by developing coping strategies. For those of you who may find yourself battling similar feelings this season, I hope that some of these tips can help you as well:
First, make a plan of activities for yourself. These could include making holiday cards, baking cookies or breads and taking them to neighbors, volunteering at nonprofits, and locating places where holiday lights will be displayed. Set dates for each, write them down on a calendar so you follow through. Developing a schedule and sticking to it can help alleviate feelings of loneliness before the holidays and throughout the season.
Use your phone. Call associates, friends, relations, and neighbors. Just talking with someone who knows you can help get you into the spirit of the holidays.
Adjust your expectations. The higher the expectations, the higher the stakes become. Managing expectations of yourself and those around you can help you avoid disappointment. Be reasonable with what to expect of yourself and accept your own limitations.
Find ways to be around people. Simply being around others may ease loneliness. Go to a mall, and take in the music and decorations. Walk into the stores and look around for gifts to give others and even for a few to give yourself. Attend a holiday event. Whether it’s your community’s parade or a big-city lights show, attending a festive event can be an uplifting and heartwarming way to combat loneliness. You can get lost in the sights and sounds of the season while feeling connected with people around you. If you don’t know anyone else going, it can be an opportunity to make a few acquaintances.
Cultivate an attitude of gratefulness. Be grateful for the things you have, making a concerted effort to focus on the love, support and connections that exist, no matter how small. Focus on things you value in your life and activities or experiences that give you pleasure – again, no matter how small.
Keep activities simple. Reflect on your traditions, and if something isn’t working for you anymore, change it. If you do not have the emotional, mental, or physical capacity to celebrate over the holidays, give yourself permission not to, or be OK with doing less. For example, if you aren’t up for sending holiday cards or baking your trademark cookies this year, that’s OK.
Help yourself by helping others. By taking actions to help others feel less lonely, you can decrease your own sense of loneliness as well. Help out at the local community center by distributing meals to those in need. Volunteer an hour or two at an animal shelter by snuggling, playing with, or walking cats or dogs. Try teaching a craft or sharing a talent at a retirement or assisted living facility. Sometimes staying busy or doing something for others helps distance ourselves from our own loneliness. Being around people who don’t have anyone else can give you a sense of belonging and help your local community enjoy the holidays.
Talk to a therapist. One way to combat holiday loneliness is to seek professional support from someone who can help you identify unhealthful ways of thinking and behaviors that do not help you cope or address your loneliness in a meaningful way. Sometimes, loneliness can be a sign of a deeper issue, such as depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem. If you think that your loneliness is affecting your mental health, well-being, or functioning, you may benefit from seeking professional help. A therapist or counselor can help you understand the causes of your loneliness, provide you with coping strategies, and support you in making positive changes.
You can do this. Over the past year, you likely have faced challenges of many
kinds and you made it through. Loneliness is no exception. Take your time, and mindfully make decisions that enhance your journey to health.