The holidays are a often a lonely time for many singles.
There’s no time of year that comes with more social expectations than the holiday season. Parties, family dinners, concerts, and the frenzy at shopping malls—the season seems to take off with its own frantic energy (though much of that has been engineered by retailers).
If you’re single during the holiday season, and especially if you’re far from your family—emotionally or physically—it can be a lonely time. If you have lost someone this year, through divorce, separation, death or conflict, you might be hurting so much the holidays feel like a personal insult.
But there are ways to avoid this loneliness and even come to enjoy the holiday season. Most of these tips involve getting out of your head and engaging with other beings, which research shows is important for your mental health.
1. Accept an invitation
Even if you are feeling ambivalent about a friend’s holiday party, accept their invitation. Staying isolated at home with a book or a movie will intensify feelings of loneliness. Instead, make the effort to get dressed up and go to a weekend party, or dinner with a friend. Being surrounded by other people has the effect of lifting a dark mood, which is hard to imagine when you’re home and lonely—it seems like going to a party will make everything worse.
Humans are social creatures. Holiday parties are actually good times to meet new people, who are feeling just as cut off as you are. If you don’t have any social engagements lined up, call up an old friend you haven’t been in touch with for a while, and see if they’re game to go out.
2. Give of your time
Besides being a badly needed antidote to the consumerism of the holiday season, volunteering actually counteracts loneliness. Serving dinner at a homeless shelter, walking pound dogs, or reading stories to children after school will make you realise how much you do have in your life.
Giving your time and energy to others will change negative thought patterns (I’m so lonely, I’ve got so little, etc.) into feelings of gratitude. Look up a charitable organisation in your neighborhood and give them a ring. You’ll probably encounter people who are lonelier, and less fortunate, than you are—and yet they’re going on with their lives as best they know how. Draw strength from their example. Pay it forward with karma this holiday season, and you’ll start the New Year on a good note.
3. Reconnect with lost folk
Even though we live in a hyper-connected world, people drift apart and relationships falter. It’s a busy time to be alive—if you’re not working you’ve probably got ten other things to do. But the holidays are still the right time to reach out to people you’ve lost touch with.
Sending a Christmas card to someone you haven’t talked to in five years may be the easiest way to revive the relationship. First peoples have a saying: today is a good day to die. It doesn’t mean you are hoping to die today, but that if it happens, you’re ready. You haven’t left any broken ties or bad debts unpaid. If writing a card is not your thing, email some photos to your aunt who lives alone, or your friend from university. The act of reaching out will make you less lonely, and, most likely they’ll write you back.
4. Calm the nerves
The bare minimum of holiday participation—buying a few gifts or decorating your front door—can still be stressful. Maybe you had an unhappy holiday last year and the memories are still raw, or maybe you’re not in a financial position to indulge in any way.
Take some time to treat yourself kindly, with or without spending money. There are loads of cheerful things to see during the holidays: lights at night, free concerts, holiday movies. If you don’t want to go out, stay inside and do something that calms your nerves. A hot bath, gentle music, and a night away from television and computer screens will help you sleep soundly and wake refreshed. Even touching your lips with your hand will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which sends out the signal to calm down.
5. Gratitude practice
Whether or not you have a meditation practice, or hold any stock in the process, you can avoid loneliness by practicing gratitude. Some people find this easiest to do first thing in the morning. For five minutes, sit quietly and reflect on the good things in your life, whether it’s good health, a safe home, a kind mum, or a good cup of coffee in your hand. You can reframe habitual negative thinking with a few minutes of gratitude for small blessings. The feelings of loneliness and dissatisfaction will retreat, and the holidays may not look so depressing anymore.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.