The Lonely Holidays


For many, the holiday season conjures up warm and fuzzy feelings as they look forward to family gatherings, parties, checking off gift lists, and cozying up by the fireplace with a special someone. But for others, this time of year can heighten an already burdensome feeling of loneliness. Whether you’re an individual longing for an intimate relationship, a couple desperately trying to start a family, a widow(er) remembering all the good times with your partner, or a person disconnected from family and friends, this time of year can be extraordinarily painful. You are constantly surrounded by reminders that you are alone, and that you don’t have what makes this time of year feel magical.

If this holiday season ushers in loneliness and sadness for you, here are some tips for making the best of this time of year. Beyond the typical advice of “Just volunteer” or “Ask a friend if you can join them,” the following ideas may help you navigate this time of year as joyfully as possible, while still honoring the painful emotions you have a right to feel.

1) Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling. It is perfectly ok to feel angry, sad, depressed, lonely, scared, and anything else that may come up for you. The key here is not to push away those feelings or pretend you’re happy; honor your pain and create space within yourself to express them (e.g., cry, scream). You will not feel this way forever (guaranteed!), and, believe it or not, if you embrace the uncomfortable feeling you will actually feel better sooner than if you work hard to suppress it. Remember, you have to feel it to heal it!

2) Engage in traditions you enjoyed as a kid. What did your family, friends, and community do at the holidays that you really enjoyed? Can you re-create that experience? Engaging in traditions is a great way to experience positive feelings that we felt as a kid. It is okay to also experience less positive feelings at the same time; embrace these feelings and allow your body to grieve ~ you will eventually feel better. And as we grieve, we become more open to change and then we can explore new traditions we would like to establish in the coming years.

3) Coordinate a holiday drive. When our own emotions and life circumstances become overwhelming, sometimes it can be helpful to focus on others who are suffering more. This does not mean that our pain is invalid and not worthy of attention; we can feel our own pain and choose to focus on others at the same time. By thinking of others and contributing to the betterment of our community, we tend to feel a sense of agency and purpose, which are wonderfully helpful emotions that can balance out the overwhelming loneliness we may be feeling. Consider putting together a drive that helps people who may be experiencing a similar type of loneliness as you. Examples of holiday drives include:

  • Collecting business clothes for homeless men and women who don’t have proper clothes for job interviews.
  • Collecting toiletries for single parents and kids living in domestic violence shelters.
  • Collecting games and books for a senior center, where many widow(er)s reside.
  • Collecting school supplies for a low-income school in your community/city.

4) Host a festive holiday event. Loneliness thrives in isolation, so do the opposite and create opportunities for you to be with others while having fun. Hosting events is a great way to bring your favorite people together and gives you the chance to enjoy the holidays. Some examples include:

  • If you’re single, host a singles-only ornament exchange; ask your friends to bring at least two of their single friends so you get to meet more people.
  • If you’re child-less, host an adults-only cocktail party with a mature gift exchange (e.g., wine, gourmet foods, movie theater gift cards).
  • Put together a team for a holiday-themed race and go together (or join an existing team).
  • Invite your friends’ kids or grandkids over for a gingerbread house decorating party.
  • Host a silly white elephant party, perhaps with a particular theme.
  • Put together a holiday block party with your neighbors.
  • Coordinate a cookie exchange at work, complete with prizes for the yummiest cookies.
  • Host a holiday party at your place of worship.

5) Travel. If you have the means and time, consider taking a trip during the holidays. Sitting at home in a quiet house while the rest of the world gathers together with their loved ones and kids can be overwhelming for nearly any person. So, rather than stay home painfully aware of what you want but don’t have, book a trip that will offer up a new adventure. Maybe venture to a warm climate that distracts your body from thinking about the snowy winter associated with the holiday season, or check out a new city that will keep you busy with sightseeing.

6) Make friends. Never stop “collecting people.” The best antidote to loneliness is connection, so seek out new people who may be potential friends. You can deliberately put yourself in situations where you may meet like-minded people, such as taking a class or joining a club, or you can socialize more with random people you encounter. Either way, the more you engage the more likely you are to meet people who may become potential friends. If you’re not sure where or how to make friends, check out another entry I wrote: How to Find and Keep {Good} Friends.

Dr. Ashley Southard is a Clinical Therapist in Scottsdale, Arizona. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, emotional/binge eating, trauma/abuse, and relationships. 



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Dr. Ashley Southard

Scottsdale, AZ, USA

Dr. Ashley Southard is a Complex Trauma Therapist and Eating Disorder Expert. Check her out on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook for heartfelt inspiration and life-changing education.