You might be expecting, preparing, or dreading to experience loneliness during the holidays, and you are not alone. In general, feelings of loneliness could stem from a wide variety of things like family pressure, anticipation, or grief due to the loss of a loved one. Due to its fluid nature, loneliness is malleable, and with certain techniques, you can manage and improve it.
Here are 30 helpful tips from mental health experts on how to cope with loneliness during the holidays:
1. Embrace Feeling Lonely
“It’s OK to feel lonely and to experience that emotion. Loneliness is just a feeling and you don’t have to push it away just because it might feel bad. All feelings give us important information. While feeling lonely might not be the greatest experience in the world, being present with it could help you gain more insight into what you are needing at that moment. What can you do to stay present with loneliness without going down an unhelpful rabbit hole? Journaling and writing out your thoughts and feelings is a great way to be present with your emotions, it can be a cathartic release, and it can help declutter your brain so you can think about how you want to take care of yourself.” – Angela Ficken, LICSW
2. Ignore Advertisements
“Sure, it would be great if our lives looked like a Hallmark card. Movies depict families eating merrily at Thanksgiving dinner, couples walking hand-in-hand under romantic snowfall, and children beaming at their new Christmas gifts. Unfortunately, this is not reality. Understand that holidays can be messy, uncomfortable, tense, and downright dreadful. If you feel underwhelmed or overwhelmed by your situation, know that it is OK. Let go of the expectation that the holidays will be a picture-perfect and enjoy them for what they are.” – Jennifer Teplin, LCSW, Founder and Clinical Director of Manhattan Wellness
3. Make a Plan Ahead of Time
“Making a plan of how to address the feelings of loneliness before the holidays can help to feel prepared to manage those difficult feelings throughout the season. This plan can include a list of people you know you can contact when feeling lonely, places you enjoy going to feel connected to others, or activities that tend to lift your mood. Keeping a list on the notes section of your phone for reference, or writing the list down and sticking it on your fridge can help serve as a reminder of what provides you comfort during the harder moments of the holiday season.” – Ivy Seraphin, LCSW, Psychotherapist at Cobb Psychotherapy
4. Lower the Stakes
“The higher the expectations of something, the higher the stakes become. Managing expectations of yourself and those around you can be extremely helpful for times where we expect a lot. Holidays add a whole new level of stress to get along with others or be social with loved ones. Be reasonable with what to expect of yourself and accept your own limitations. It’s been a particularly difficult and taxing year (or two), so do what works best for you. If this holiday season isn’t exactly what you would want for yourself, that’s ok. You’re doing the best you can.” – Sarah Breen, LMSW at Cobb Psychotherapy
5. Be Around People
“This doesn’t mean you need to be with people, but simply being around others can ease our loneliness. Find a public space where you feel comfortable and maybe bring a book to read or a cup of coffee to enjoy. Head to a busy park and find a bench where you can sit to listen to the sounds of the people and nature around you. You may still feel lonely, but you may also feel less isolated.” – Kailey Hockridge, MA, EdM, LPCC
6. Be Prepared by “Coping Ahead”
“There is a skill some of my clients find helpful called the “cope ahead” skill. The purpose of this skill is to allow us to think about how we can prepare to reduce stress ahead of time.
For example, you might think ‘The holidays are approaching and I can’t be with my family this year so I know I will feel lonely which will lead me to isolate myself isolate. I plan to have a puzzle ready to work on, prep some festive meals to cook, and call my cousin to check in with her.’
Once you have your plan, rehearse it in your mind until you feel more confident. The more you rehearse your plan, the better equipped you will be to cope!” – Stephanie Longtain, LCSW
7. Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude
“Be grateful for the things you do have – you can’t focus on this and the things you feel like you’re lacking at the same time. Make a concerted effort to focus on the love, support and connections you do have. Focus on things you value in your life and things that you derive pleasure from.” – Dr. Holly Schiff, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist
8. Make a List of Two or Three Things That Bring You Joy
“If joy feels like a high bar, find two to three things that help you feel emotionally neutral. This could mean going out into nature, engaging in a hobby, reading a book, or watching a favorite TV show guaranteed to make you laugh. The goal doesn’t have to be getting rid of loneliness; sometimes it can be enough to experience joy so we’re reminded that loneliness isn’t the only thing we are feeling—it can exist alongside other emotions, too.” – Kailey Hockridge, MA, EdM, LPCC
9. Discover the Type of Loneliness You’re Experiencing
“Loneliness during the holidays can be a gift if we see it as a friend and not an enemy. Loneliness is calling us to pay attention to an inner need that we have not become conscious of up to this point. It is a very normal experience and is signaling us to pay attention to what it is that we are experiencing and what the loneliness is telling us. There are different kinds of loneliness: loneliness for friends, loneliness for knowing oneself and existential loneliness (we’re born into this world alone and we die alone—even with other people in our midst). We often place substitutes in place of going into our own loneliness to discover the gift that awaits us (yes, it’s a gift, even though it can be painful). Loneliness can offer us a pathway to inner Peace.” – Mark Bigley, LCSW
10. Create Rituals Honoring Those You Miss
“There has been quite a bit of loss over the last couple of years and this holiday season may be the first without the people that you love.
Think of some ritual things that you enjoy doing and try to incorporate those into your days over the holidays. If you are unable to physically be with loved ones, are there ways you can connect? If that is not an option how can you feel more connected to yourself? Emphasizing your self worth and how you feed yourself can help to offset the loneliness that comes from feeling disconnected from the support of our community.” – Sonia Martin, LCSW
11. Phone a Friend
“Very few people like to ask others for support. Yet, many people understand what it’s like to feel lonely during the Holidays. Talking with a friend and letting them into your experience can help. If you confide in them, you’ll have someone you can call, video conference, or be with who understands what you need.” – Jason Drake, Lead Clinician and Owner of Katy Teen & Family Counseling, PLLC
12. Make New Traditions
“Reset your expectations and memories and make new traditions. It is easy to say but hard to do, but it’s worth trying. If you are on your own then try to find something you like to do- is it sport, is it cooking, is it sitting by the fire, reading books, but some good movies to watch. Keep yourself in action if this helps, or find quiet moments and make it comfortable and cozy.” – Katie Lasson, Clinical Sexologist & Relationship Advisor
13. Remember: Loneliness Is a Feeling, Not a Fact
“The brain sometimes tells us that no one cares. This isn’t true, but a lonely mind is a scared mind, and a scared mind often dreams up the worst case scenario. Loneliness is a feeling, not a fact.” – Deedee Cummings, Founder of Abi Behavioral Health
14. Talk to a Therapist
“One way to combat holiday loneliness is to seek out a therapist. A professional can help you identify unhealthy ways of thinking about the holiday season and behaviors you may be engaging in that do not help you cope or address your loneliness in a meaningful way.” – Kara Kushnir, Psychotherapist and Founder of A Work of Heart Counseling
15. Connect With Yourself in an Intentional & Mindful Way
“This could mean taking a trip or day trip to somewhere new, soaking in the adventure; working on a long standing project; catching up via phone or video with friends and family; or spending time with healing activities such as meditation, journaling, or spa experiences. Fill the time with activities that would bring you joy and calmness and which are outside of your usual routine. It could also look like volunteering with a restaurant or food shelter to connect with the community and others who are alone.
Practice mindfulness with whatever you choose to do—focus on the experience, the sensations, the visuals, audio, and your breath so that you’re not in your head and over-focusing on thoughts and emotions of loneliness all day. And turn off or delete social media temporarily! Seeing others’ curated holiday experiences can add to sadness; the reality is many feel loneliness even when with others and what you see on social media is not real life. And remember that the feeling of loneliness is temporary and can be shifted to a place of connection, even if physically alone.” – Nira Shah, LMHC
16. Try Mindfulness
“Be mindful of the ‘here and now.’ Focus on the present moment and connect with your inner experience (thoughts, emotions, sensations). By connecting with the present moment, you might be able to notice that thoughts are impermanent and feelings change from time to time.” – Gabriela Sadurní Rodríguez, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
17. Practice Self-Compassion
“One of the most helpful things we can do during difficult times is to treat ourselves with genuine kindness and caring. It doesn’t come natural to a lot of us but practicing self-compassion allows us to treat ourselves like we would treat our friends.
Self-compassion = mindfulness + kindness + common humanity
- Mindfulness: I notice I’m worrying about feeling lonely during the holidays.
- Kindness: This might be a difficult time so I want to treat myself with kindness.
- Common humanity: This is something I have in common with others who are alone during the holidays and I’m sure many other people are having this same experience. I am not alone.” – Stephanie Longtain, LCSW
18. Join a New Club
“To help with feelings of loneliness, try joining a club in something you enjoy doing. This could be a book club, knitting club or even something like a wine club. These things can bring you closer to people who have similar interests and many of these gatherings can happen over video calls which is still a great way to make friends or acquaintances.
You can make some lasting connections by joining a club and help to diminish the feeling that you are alone over the holidays. Having like minded people be a part of your life can also boost your mood and encourage you to keep doing the things you love!” – Alexander Burgemeester, Neuro-Psychologist and Owner of The Narcissistic Life
19. Practice Gratitude
“Gratitude is a remedy for many unpleasant thoughts and feelings. It helps us to create new neural pathways and feel more positive. As an exercise, replace each negative thought and feeling with five grateful ones.” – Carrie Krawiec, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic
20. Make Time to Reflect
“Many may be grieving a new loss this year, and the pandemic has shaken the way holidays are experienced. One way to address this is to make time for quiet moments of reflection, to give yourself permission to feel all of your feelings about that loss, and then move forward with your loved one’s memory by incorporating it into the holiday. For instance, if you lost your mother this year, perhaps this Christmas you can make the cookies you always made together, but with a close friend or another family member, listening to music she would have liked, and sharing the memories of your mom together.” – Kara Kushnir, Psychotherapist and Founder of A Work of Heart Counseling
21. Stay Off of Social Media
“Social media comparison is one of the most triggering thought holes you could fall into during the holiday season. Keep in mind that what you see on social media is only the ‘best and brightest’ version, it is not their total existence. While social media can help to keep people connected, it more often makes you compare your life to others. I recommended staying off of social media all together during the holiday season, especially if you are feeling lonely.” – Dr. Lea Lis, Psychiatrist and founder of the No Shame with Dr. Lea Mighty Network
22. Focus on Yourself
“Simple, every day self-care tasks are just as important as anything else. Make sure you take time to shower, eat, and rest properly. Self-care might also look like taking time off to engage in something you enjoy like reading a book, taking a walk, or doing a puzzle.” – Gabriela Sadurní Rodríguez, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
23. Help Yourself by Helping Others
“By helping others not feel as lonely during the holidays, you can placate your own loneliness as well. Help out at the local community center by distributing meals. Help the neighborhood kids decorate their place and practice gift-giving with them. Being around people who don’t have anyone else can give you a sense of belonging and help your local community enjoy the holidays together.” – Pareen Sehat, Registered Clinical Counselor at Well Beings Counselling
24. Be Honest With Your Community
“Stay intentionally connected to your healthy community and challenge yourself to reach out. Also as a preemptive strike, be honest with your healthy community and let them know the struggles of loneliness during the holidays so they reach out as well.” – Anastasia Brokas, LMFT
25. Connect Online
“Reach out to someone. Having moments to connect with others can do so much, and putting effort into doing this might also make you feel a low-key sense of accomplishment. It is important to build your support network, care about others, and feel cared about. If you feel like there is no one to reach out to, try joining a club, online group, or virtual support group.” – Gabriela Sadurní Rodríguez, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
26. Find a New Hobby
“Free time can increase feelings of loneliness during the holidays. Plan to regularly engage in a hobby. If you don’t have one, it’s the perfect time to pick one up. Keep in mind, hobbies that involve other people can really ease loneliness during this time.” – Jason Drake, Lead Clinician and Owner of Katy Teen & Family Counseling, PLLC
27. Play Detective
“Play detective! Were you feeling OK until you walked past an aggressively cheery holiday window of an impossibly perfect family? Think about whatever prompted your lonely feelings in a more holistic, less biased manner. For example, if it was an advertisement, recognize that the family or scene depicted is fictional and was created to sell things. Or, if the thing that prompted your loneliness was seeing a family pick out a christmas tree, recognize that you happened to witness one happy time for them, but their lives also contain moments of sadness and anger, just like yours.” – Julie Katzman, LMSW, Teen Therapist at Plan Your Recovery
28. Get Physical & Move Your Body
“Go for a walk, join a fitness class, get your hands messy learning pottery. Loneliness, like other feelings, can be held in our bodies. By doing something that releases tension or brings a sense of stillness, we can alleviate some of the physical symptoms of loneliness – low appetite, lack of interest, low energy, just to name a few.” – Kailey Hockridge, MA, EdM, LPCC
29. Schedule Time to Feel Your Loneliness
“Being lonely can take a lot of emotional energy, but that does not mean you need to let the loneliness consume you. It is OK to accept and embrace your feelings, and give them the time and attention they demand, as long as you also close the box when you’re done, and do not let the lonely feelings consume you. Scheduling time to feel lonely can be a healthy way to manage its mental health effects.” – Gina Marie Guarino, Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Psych Point
30. Take an Existential Approach
“As a counselling therapist, I have come to realize that there are lots of different approaches that we can take to reframe loneliness. One of the stances that I have come to appreciate is a more existential one. Being able to explore and connect with a different perspective on this initially scary experience – loneliness – can be an important tool to shift out of the uncomfortable feelings it can bring.
If you are able to think of yourself as being composed of different parts (e.g., the angry-protective part, the loving-connected part, the lonely part), then you are able to gently distance yourself from the part that feels lonely, and in turn be able to finally ’show up’ for this part with love and compassion.
This is the process of undoing aloneness. The pain that you experience when feeling lonely can be understood as the result of what has happened to you when you have been left alone in the painful circumstance. You are wired for connection and secure attachment; And so the process of ‘showing up’ for the part of yourself that feels lonely helps you to heal this pain – this loneliness. With this tool, founded in Internal Family Systems Therapy, you realize that you are never alone, and rather forever with yourself.” – Myriame Lyons, MA, RCC, CCC
How to Find a Therapist to Help You Cope With Loneliness
To find a therapist to help you find and implement strategies to combat loneliness and holiday depression, you could explore options from an online therapist directory, ask someone you know and trust if they have any recommendations, or seek a referral from a nearby doctor’s office. Therapist fees will vary, with session rates often between $50 and $150 without insurance. With insurance coverage, the out-of-pocket costs per session could be very low.
Infographic for Coping with Loneliness During the Holidays