5 Ways to Deal with Loneliness During the Holidays

By Liz Wallace |

Spending time alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely. Here’s how to celebrate in your own way.

hands holiding ornament

The holidays are a jam-packed time for many of us—crowded with people, parties, shopping, errands, and package deliveries. But for those folks spending the holidays alone, the season may not feel so festive, says Rosalind Dorlen, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice in Summit, New Jersey.

If you’re alone this year, for whatever reason, Dorlen’s suggestions can help you manage feelings of loneliness or sadness—and even enjoy the experience. Here’s how.

Step #1: Assess Your Situation in Advance

Ask yourself what it’ll be like being alone. Are you going to feel like you’re choosing some alone time, or are you going to feel awful? If you think you’re going to feel awful, what can you do to deal with that? Will you invite someone to be with you? Will you find an active way to spend some time? You may want to do more than just get through the day.

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Step #2: Make a Plan

If you want to connect with others, consult online calendars and local news sites to find out what community groups, houses of worship, or businesses are doing that day. If you have friends or neighbors who are also alone, organize your own celebratory event. There’s a good chance they’ll be grateful you reached out! Need some inspiration? Check out these quick and easy appetizers that are perfect for any gathering.

If you’re okay with staying home alone, you can plan for that too. The following tips will help.

Step #3: Make It a Special Occasion—for Yourself

A night alone doesn’t have to be a sad occasion. Quite the contrary! “Make a fire in the fireplace, make yourself a fine meal, or pick up something nice at the market,” Dorlen says. Listen to relaxing music, or rent or stream a movie you’ve been looking forward to—and you’ve got the makings of a good night.

Even better, watch something that makes you laugh. “True laughter is marked by extreme relaxation,” says Jan van Hooff, Ph.D., a biologist in the Netherlands who’s studied the intersection of humor and health. This relaxation is reflected in your hormones. If something makes you laugh, levels of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine drop, and the feel-good chemical dopamine increases.

And that’s not the only way a good chuckle can improve your life. Check out three more powerful health perks of laughter.

Step #4: Take a Vacation from Social Media

“Part of what makes us feel lonely is the perception on social media that everybody is having a good time,” Dorlen says. “We assume everyone is having all of this fun, having these magnificent dinners, and we have FOMO [fear of missing out].”

Keep in mind that much of what’s on social media is a fantasy, she adds. Avoid comparisons with your own life, especially during the holidays.

Saw something that already got you down? It’s not too late to turn your mood around. Lift yourself up with these simple strategies proven to put a smile on your face.

Step #5: Break a Sweat

Exercising is the ultimate natural way to fight anxiety and boost your mood. A good workout kicks your body’s feel-good chemicals—endorphins—into high gear. And over the long term, exercise can help fight depression.

Studies have found that people with mild to moderate depression who opt for regular exercise fare just as well as those who take antidepressant medication. Meanwhile, other research has shown that people who rely on a prescription can still benefit from adding exercise to the mix. Just 20 minutes of activity three times per week is enough to do the trick.

While you’ll still reap the many benefits of exercise doing it alone, group fitness classes offer the bonus benefit of introducing you to new people with similar interests—and perhaps even similar situations. In fact, a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab found that SilverSneakers members are 25 percent less likely to experience loneliness than non-members.

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