As a family therapist, I can assure you that holiday loneliness knows no age limit or socio-economic status. The wave of feeling lost and alone as the “most wonderful time of the year” approaches can creep up on us on quiet cat feet or hit us head-on like a mega-ton locomotive. Either way, I know for an absolute fact that loneliness will be at an all-time high this year.
Loneliness can have a deep emotional impact on us as well. It’s debilitating and wreaks havoc on coping skills, self-esteem, empathy, and happiness. If you feel a sense of dread and overwhelm headed your way, just know that you are not alone.
The best thing you can do is prepare for these feelings in advance. Be aware that the holidays tend to bring on the feeling of loneliness. This particular holiday season is compounded by a nearly year-long pandemic and an urgency to stay at home and away from the people we love.
Many people are mourning not being able to travel as freely as they once did. Even if they are willing to make the journey across states or countries, family members may not be able to host parties or even invite visitors into their homes.
If this is your current circumstance, I know that it can be hurtful when people ask you to stay away. Even when you understand that they are asking for you to stay away for a very good reason. It’s OK to acknowledge that hurt and disappointment.
Making a Plan to Help Cope with Holiday Loneliness
So how can we cope? How can we “armor up” for the inevitable feelings of loss, frustration, and aloneness? Go ahead and get ready for all of this now.
Manage Expectations: Do not assume that people will allow you to visit. If you think you may travel somewhere plan for this now. Tell yourself you are blessed and you will adjust. Remind yourself that we are in a pandemic. Things will look and feel different, but they will not always be this way.
Create an Online Party: Make a plan to address the possibility that you might feel lonely now. Text your friends and tell them you may need them on standby. Plan Zoom meetings and dates with them. Do a dirty Santa game by mail and then have everyone get on Zoom to open the gifts together. (Amazon will ship the present to them directly.) Look for ideas and schedule things now because the brain lies to us when we get lonely.
Arrange for Professional Help: It is easier than ever to talk with a therapist through telehealth. Get recommendations for a good therapist and schedule a time to talk. The meetings may not be ongoing. Maybe you just need help coming up with a plan to address these feelings before they take you down the rabbit hole. Take the notes from this meeting and write them on index cards. Place the index cards by your bed, in your car, in your purse, on your refrigerator. The notes should remind you of all the things you know to be true when your brain starts telling you that no one cares about you and that is why you are alone.
You are not alone.
You just feel alone.
Loneliness is a feeling, not a fact.
People love you.
The world needs you.
You will get through this.
This will not last.
Practice Self-Care Daily: Make a note of things you can do that lift you up when you are feeling down. What helps lighten your mood during non-holiday times? Music? Books? Exercise? Also, list all of the things you are grateful for. Don’t be afraid to call supportive people and tell them you feel down.
Don’t Let Your Brain be a Bully: Don’t let your brain lie to you! Be prepared for it to do that and be prepared to talk back and tell your brain that those thoughts are not true. REMEMBER: The brain tells us that no one cares about us and that is why we are alone. We know this is not true, but a lonely mind is a scared mind, and a scared mind often dreams up the worst-case scenario.
Holidays are always hard, but this season coming up will be particularly tough. You need to build your armor to address this now the same as you would buy a hat, coat, and gloves to face the cold wind. The cold wind will pass.
And these feelings will too. Peace and happiness to you and yours this holiday season.
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