Even without a pandemic, the holidays can conjure up feelings of longing and nostalgia. Many will face this holiday season alone. Others may be sad as the pandemic makes it difficult or impossible to gather with friends and family members.
Unfortunately, I had to work through feelings of sadness and loneliness over the holidays many times over the past years. My daughter, age 18, spent every other Christmas with her dad from age two until today. The first several holidays without her were really tough. But over time, I learned some tools and strategies that helped me to cope and reframe the holidays in a way that gave special meaning to them, even while apart from family. Here are some things that worked for me:
1. Remember the difference between loneliness and solitude
I love this quote by Robert Fulghum: “Solitude is not the same as loneliness. Solitude is a solitary boat floating in a sea of possible companions.” Solitude just means that you are alone, almost if as by choice, at this very moment. You can experience true contentment and openness while in solitude, while also sensing many opportunities that are just beyond your fingertips.
2. The feeling of being “connected” is mainly a state of mind
Maybe you’ve heard the question, “have you ever felt alone, in the middle of a party, while being surrounded by family and friends?” I definitely have experienced this in my life. The “feeling” of connection has more to do with my inner state of mind. There are many things you can do to “feel” connected to others. Call an old friend and reconnect over a cup of tea (virtual or in-person, if possible), go for a long walk with a neighbor, or schedule a zoom call with a group of family or friends. Any small effort to connect can work wonders.
3. Make small talk with others while running errands in town
Even brief, casual conversations have really improved my sense of connection. I sometimes went to Kripalu, a yoga center, during the holiday season. I found that even the smallest exchanges with other students participating in workshops made a huge difference. Extending friendliness and kindness to others while out and about in your community can profoundly improve your sense of loneliness and isolation.
Sending holiday cards to nursing home residents or sponsoring a family in-need can really work wonders in evoking the holiday spirit. In the “Book of Joy,” the Dalai Lama states, “the three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”
5. Make handmade gifts for friends and family members this holiday season
There is something remarkably gratifying about making something with your hands and gifting it to another. So often in the past, I have just checked off a list of gifts and clicked and ordered on Amazon. This year, I’m going to try something different, and spend time in December baking cookies and creating trays to be delivered to neighbors, family, and friends.
6. Treat yourself well
Plan in advance: which special meals do you want to make, which favorite movies do you want to watch, and which book have you been meaning to read? Use this unique circumstance to make this holiday meaningful for you. “Taking time to do things that will enhance your self-esteem or at least give you a good dose of fun will not only take your focus off of feeling alone, but it can lift your spirits as well.” 
7. Light a Candle and Write a List of Everything You are Grateful For
Then, write a list of all of the beautiful and exciting things to look forward to in the New Year ahead. Place both lists in a memory box and find a place of honor for it in your home. Every time you see the box, you can recall with reverence the deeper meaning and sense of hope and connection you experienced in this 2020 Holiday season!