Clear the Clutter

What to Do If You're Feeling Alone This Holiday

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Clear the Clutter

Home Alone for the Holidays

The holiday season is the time of year most associated with family, friends, and community — which can make spending that time alone particularly challenging. There are a variety of reasons that you might find yourself alone at the holidays. It could be that you live far away from loved ones, you might be recently bereaved or divorced, or perhaps your friendship circle has thinned over the years. Regardless of the reason, there are plenty of proactive steps to feel less lonely and instead make the most of the time spent alone.

Rethink Being Alone

Rethink Being Alone

Being alone can produce some painful feelings of isolation, rejection or exclusion. Some people even perform a version of illogical leap-frogging, in which alone equals unloved, which equals unloveable. This false equivalence magnifies pain and rejection. It is your attitude about the state of being alone that determines how you feel, though. If you perceive being alone as a temporary situation, you are more likely to respond to it differently than if you see it as permanent and personal.

Turn The Time Into A Positive Experience

Turn the Time Into a Positive Experience

There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Solitude can be welcome and restorative if it means time to reconnect with yourself and being free of external demands. If you are expecting a lot of alone time this year, there are ways to ensure that you have a positive experience of the holidays.

Repurpose The Holiday

Repurpose the Holiday

Consider redefining the meaning of the holiday. It could be time for self-care, an opportunity to prioritize special projects and activities, time for volunteering, a chance to travel, or the moment to reflect on the year’s growth and create plans for the future. Being alone means being free to create your own experience. 

Flip The Script
Rattankun Thongbun/istockphoto

Flip the Script

Instead of focusing on what you lack (e.g. family, partner, close friends, or money), take a mental inventory of your existing resources. You will be surprised by what you find (e.g. spare time, a workout routine, a good neighbor, a safe place to live, a love of reading, proximity to nature or city amenities). By flipping the script, what has felt empty now has possibilities to explore.

Go To Your Happy Places

Go to Your Happy Places

This is a good time to use the personal anchors you have developed. Personal anchors or landmarks are places that you enjoy visiting, such as a favorite park, beach, bookstore, tennis club, or hobby store. They are places of familiarity and relaxation. Being greeted by name at your favorite coffee shop reduces the sense of invisibility and anonymity that can accompany being alone.

Find Your Routine

Find Your Routine

Patterns and routines provide a positive benefit. These activities enable you to be relaxed and absorbed in some experience. They might be your morning walk, your favorite exercise class, or the Sunday crossword puzzle. Physical spaces and routines provide a reliably positive experience and something to count on.

Maximize Self-care

Maximize Self-Care

Healthy eating and sleeping patterns and a regular exercise routine ensure your physical and emotional well-being. Maintaining a consistent pattern of seven to eight hours of good sleep and eating nutritious meals provides an optimal level of energy for your day. Be aware of your intake of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, as they can negatively affect sleep and increase anxiety levels

Avoid Alcohol

Avoid Alcohol

If you’re spending extended periods of time alone, alcohol can be particularly seductive. While some people drink in hopes of soothing painful loneliness, it ultimately worsens depression and often increases isolation. If you are reaching for alcohol more often over the holidays, make a plan to fill vulnerable times with alternate activities and ask for support from a friend, therapist, or substance abuse program.

Related: 11 Tips to Get You Through the Holidays Without Drinking

Lift Your Mood
Enjoy a Long Soak in the Bath
Asia Images/istockphoto

Create an Oasis

When you are alone at home, create a soothing and pleasing environment. Think about ways to enhance the experience of each of your five senses. These are taste, smell, sight, sound and touch. This sensory banquet fosters awareness of your physical and emotional being and reduces the sense of numb detachment that can accompany isolation. 

Create Social Experiences

Create Social Experiences

If you crave social interaction but don’t have available friends or family, spend time in social environments. If you can’t be with people, be around them. Look for opportunities to engage with others by attending a class, participating in an activity, or volunteering. Even short conversations in the supermarket line can brighten everyone’s day.  


Schedule Outings

Make plans for small experiences with casual acquaintances, such as getting coffee or driving to an event together. If you know people who are similarly at loose ends over the holidays, invite them to catch a movie or join you for a meal.

Reconnect With People

Reconnect With People

You may also have lost track of a number of people over time. Renewing contact with people who played a significant role in your life can reactivate friendships and bonds that have become dormant.


Go on a Treasure Hunt

If you have social opportunities, but they involve people with whom you don’t feel connected, you may experience a different type of aloneness. To approach these situations in a more positive light, imagine going on a treasure hunt to find something interesting or surprising about your coworker or distant cousin. Having a mission brings purpose to the encounter, and you might even enjoy yourself more than you anticipated.

Create a Protective Shield

Create a Protective Shield

A more challenging situation arises with closer family or friends who refuse to acknowledge important aspects of your identity, beliefs or values. This is often described as “being unseen.” You might even have to spend time with family members or friends who have hurt or abused you in the past. In these instances, prioritizing your emotional well-being is paramount.

Set Limits

Set Limits

If attendance is necessary, limit the time you spend to the most essential aspects of the event. Your goal might be to have five moments of positive contact with each member of the party. If someone says something hurtful, imagine it bouncing off the invisible plexiglass shield that stands between you. Immediately after the event, create a restorative and soothing activity for yourself.

Allow Grieving

Allow Grieving

Being alone after the loss of loved ones is another painful situation. Holidays often highlight the loss. There are shared traditions, memories of past holidays, and even the place at the table that are forever changed by a loved one’s absence. Make quiet times available in order to acknowledge your loss and grief, and carefully choose what festivities and events you can attend and enjoy. Keep communicating to others about your social stamina and limited energy. Avoid adding pressure to act cheerful when you are sad as it creates an unfair burden. It helps to have a couple of people with whom you can share fond memories, and who can offer a needed hug.

Give Yourself a Gift

Give Yourself a Gift

Being comfortable alone is an important life skill. While you might learn the skill just to manage the holidays, it is available to you all year. It is beneficial and empowering to know that you can see yourself through times of social drought, as well transforming aloneness into opportunities for growth and self-knowledge.