How to Deal with Holiday Loneliness

Published on: 07 Dec 2021
Clinically Reviewed by Liz Kelly, LCSW

Updated on 9/21/2022

Every year, there comes a time when we are all propelled full force into the holiday spirit. This year, however, we are coming out of several years worth of hybrid isolation and many of us are facing the complicated duality of excitement and fear: managing feelings of social awkwardness with excitement and holiday cheer. While there certainly is a lighter spirit, higher energy levels, and a global change in routine that gives us hope for the future, we cannot ignore the other side of this coin. Layers of pain- abandonment, loneliness, grief and loss are still present in many of our lives. Both of these sides deserve our time and attention in similar ways. It’s important to confront uncomfortable feelings rather than avoiding them or masking the side effects. 

COVID’s Impact on Our Social Skills

COVID changed the way we each existed in the world in a way we have never had to experience before.  The first thing it did was remove our identification in the community. We stayed home, so we did not have the opportunity to run into fellow moms at our kid’s schools, or coworkers at our jobs, or even converse with others on sports teams or group fitness. There were no longer friendly, casual interactions at the grocery store, or the routine of self-care regimens with professionals; nor was there any space between work life and home life. All of these essential social tactics were removed and many of us might still be struggling to reclaim our places in community and find our value once again. 

Combine the lack of these items with the congestion at home, and we all feel as though we have significantly regressed in our world. We lived on top of our intimate partners, family members, kids, pets, etc. How do we miss someone or something that is always around? Because we have lost the ability to separate things that we love from the people we love, the love might seem to decrease for both categories simultaneously. 

Holiday triggers that might make us feel alone

Holiday season is an exciting time, many individuals tend to be more positive, and positivity is contagious just like negativity seems to be. People like change when change is the norm AND societally accepted. During the holidays, positive change has the ability to engulf us completely through our five senses. 

  • We listen to the holiday music on the radio
  • We see plays like the Nutcracker and Christmas Carol 
  • We  taste and decorate cookies, candies, and cakes in anticipation
  • We touch gifts deciding what to buy and receive them in our hands
  • We smell pine, chilled air (at least many of us do!), and fresh baked goodies 

And, while not all of us will resonate with every sense on this list, we probably resonate with at least one or can understand others who resonate with items on this list. 

That being said, a lot of people are left wondering: Why do I feel so alone?

Even with all its positive energy, the holiday season also brings an array of complicated emotions that might be triggering. The most common reasons why we might feel triggered during the holiday season, include, but are not limited to:

  • Being reminded of close friends or relatives that have passed
  • Childhood memories can be traumatic for a lot of people
  • There is incongruence between our expectations and what actually happens
  • Negatively comparing our circumstances to others
  • Feeling low on resources and unable to have the full experience
  • Being pulled away from work, which is where a lot of us build our identities and feel most comfortable
  • Being bombarded by additional obligations we need to navigate
  • Facing difficulties getting along with relatives in the same space

“The holidays can often trigger complicated feelings like grief or disappointment.  Holiday events can highlight the death or absence of a loved one, complex family dynamics, and unfulfilled hopes or dreams.” 

Liz Kelly, LICSW

If you’re feeling down during the holiday season, know that the demand for mental health services substantially increases during this time of year, which attests to the fact that you are not alone in these feelings. People face battles all the time that we know very little about. 

“Seeing the flawless images of holiday celebrations in advertising and social media can trigger feelings of inadequacy and disappointment. Those images simply are not realistic for most people. If you are having trouble feeling the holiday spirit, there is nothing wrong with you. This can be a hard time of year.”

Liz Kelly, LICSW

Warning signs that our triggers are taking over

Triggers have slight variations among different people. Some people cannot identify triggers as much as they recognize that they have been triggered. Other people have a thorough understanding of their triggers, but may feel helpless in terms of either preventing the triggers from taking over or digging out when they get there. 

Several warning signs that seem to universally stand out:

  • Snapping at people that we care about for no identified reason
  • Removing ourselves from opportunities to connect
  • Talking negatively about other people
  • Repeating the same worry loop
  • Missing out on needed sleep or sleeping too much
  • Forgetting to eat or eating too much, developing irregular eating patterns

Combating holiday loneliness: The two-part system

Social awkwardness is real in the same way that social competence requires us to practice our skills on the regular. So practicing the art of slow and steady feels better than not at all. We all need to feel like we have a place in the world, so it feels safe to acknowledge that we all need other people to a certain degree. We need a spot to unload without criticism, we need to be able to relate, and most importantly we need to feel like we would be missed in the same way that we miss others. 

So how do we practice socialization again without completely overwhelming ourselves?

  • What about trying a virtual book club? Or even a hybrid version if you’re ready. 
  • Download the app Nextdoor to get to know your  neighbors more
  • Use the app Bumble BFF to find filters that might connect you with likeminded people who turn into friends
  • Have a paint and sip event (even if you prefer seltzer water!)
  • Find a physical fitness group on Meetup.com
  • Join spiritual groups (if you’re into that!)
  • Set-up a regular routine, so you don’t overlook the importance of socialization

It’s scary to take the first step. People fear rejection more than death. If we stick out our neck, there is the chance that people say no, certainly. But, what if they say yes? Just think about the new connection that also brings other connections to the table? Just by our willingness to be transparent and start the momentum, people want to follow suit. 

Never getting space. A lot of cool things happen when we have a free moment to reflect. Reflection that pertains to ourselves with several things coming to mind. 

  • How do we view ourselves, others, and the world? 
  • What about boundaries? Do we tell other people no when we need to?
  • Are we mindful about what we put into our bodies?
  • Do we have a regular rhythm of how we take care of our bodies?
  • Are we investing in the relationships that mean the most to us?
  • What is our societal contribution? How do we give back to the world?

So even in a crowded home where we are on top of our partners, family members, and even friends, can we create separate lanes?

  • How about that closet in our home being turned into a creativity room?
  • Can we have a closed door, do not bother me, kind of policy?
  • Can we be more present in each category with more boundaries between categories?
  • What about checklists or schedules that do not leave anything unattended to?
  • Is there room to delegate? Relinquishing control?
  • Can we sneak out and go for an activity alone and outdoors?

Finding The Balance Between Excitement And Loneliness

Think of life as a journey where we are just trying to be better than we were yesterday. No matter how little the adjustment we have to make to get us to the best version of ourselves is, we are constantly trying to implement new things. This post-COVID, early entry into the holidays, is no different. 

We can reach out, socially, in the way that we are comfortable with, finding items that we are really passionate about. For me, I love the cooking part of the holidays. Trying out new recipes and sharing with my friends and family. Nothing really makes me happier. For others, it might be Zoo lights or just cruising around neighborhoods looking at the lights. Go where you find the most joy and then bask in gratitude. 

We can also do things that recharge us as individuals even if that means demanding and  protecting that space with everything we have. 

But when that all-encompassing fear and loneliness hits us, allow it to wash over us. Welcome it openly. Have an ugly cry, scream into a pillow, or spend a whole day binge watching Netflix. Our bodies and our minds actually know what to do if we can find comfort in discomfort. If that feels impossible, reach out to a professional that can assist. We are here for you. 

Sending positive vibes your way. 

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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