Many people, either due to smaller family sizes, extended distances, frequent moves, few friends or solitary personality types, find ourselves alone at the holidays. We may also have chosen to remain apart from family for our own emotional health. No matter the reason, the holidays can bring up intense feelings of loneliness, nostalgia, and sadness as we try to just “make it through”.
The commercialized versions of holidays that we see in books, movies and advertising can further exacerbate the issue. We imagine that if we just had a (fill in the blank) significant other, supportive family, or even a caring group of friends, then we would not feel so alone.
We may be further compounding our problem by telling ourselves to just “cheer up” or to take the advice of a concerned friend and join other single groups or find other people with whom to associate around the holidays.
This forced sense of what we “should” be doing can often make us feel even worse. However, without forcing ourselves to act in a way that we aren’t truly feeling, there are strategies to utilize in order to make the holidays less of something to dread, a time we can move through with less emotional pain and more of something that we can once again look forward to.
Some of us think self-defeating and negative thoughts throughout the day without even realizing it, unwittingly contributing to our feelings of sadness or loneliness. For instance, thoughts like:
- “I’m always alone.”
- “I’ll never find someone to be with.”
- “I’m too old to find someone.”
- “Why don’t I have friends?”
- “No one would want to be with me.”
- And so on ...
... do us no good.
Acknowledging that these thoughts are even in our consciousness is the first step. When you begin to feel sad or lonely, try to catch the actual thoughts that are triggering the feeling by writing them down. This can be very helpful in order to see what it is that we tell ourselves.
Stopping the Thoughts:
One of the main techniques used in emotional healing is called thought stopping:
- After you have examined your thoughts, then you can determine if the thought itself is something helpful or harmful.
- The next step is releasing the thought. Saying to ourselves these thoughts are hurting me not helping me, is a self-compassionate thought stopping phrase.
- Once we see these harmful thoughts for what they are – simply thoughts, may not be actual truths of our life – we might be able to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Helping Others: Smiles, Barista, And Volunteering
Another way to pull out of the overall dread of the holidays is to do something kind for others. Studies have shown that helping others can improve our sense of self-worth and reduce stress and loneliness.
The authors of one recent study report that,” engaging in prosocial behavior might be an effective strategy for reducing the impact of stress.” This doesn’t have to mean a great contribution of money or time, either.
Helping others could be something as simple as smiling at your barista or paying for the person behind you without the hope of acknowledgment, and indeed, these smaller acts of kindness throughout your day can be even more important than one larger commitment.
However, volunteering with a local soup kitchen or Meals on Wheels program during the holiday time can be especially rewarding, as many organizations need help during the holiday season. On an extended basis, volunteering with an organization who needs our unique skills can help to remind us that we are needed and wanted in the world.
Your best life:
Another proven technique from the world of positive psychology is called the Best Life Exercise. You can use this in any area of your life, including career and relationships.
- Simply journal for between 5 to 10 minutes (or as long as you’d like) on the best life you envision for yourself in any arena.
- Since we are speaking specifically about the holidays here, perhaps try writing about yourself in a holiday in the future in which you have relationships and support that you desire. Add as much detail as much as possible.
- Above all, give yourself permission to envision it all exactly as you would like it to be. Part of the envisioning is to tune into your body and feel what it would be like for your vision to be your reality. It might help to revisit this picture often, imagining yourself as this future you.
Often we forget all of the people that do love us and are concerned for us. Setting some time aside for coffee, dinner, or a funny movie with a friend may help to remind us.
Even during the holidays, other people may need a break from their families and relish the time away. The holidays may be exactly the time to strengthen and nurture old friendships.
If you find yourself struggling during the holidays, and can’t seem to move away from the sadness or loneliness, speaking with a licensed psychotherapist may be very beneficial. A therapist will help you to navigate through the emotional stresses of the holidays, or at any time.
At Nassau Guidance & Counseling, we work with you to find your unique path towards happiness, opening you up to a fuller and more multi-dimensional future, and we look forward to speaking with you.