The holidays can be tough. We see festive Christmas lights twinkling throughout town. And instead of joy, we feel pangs of sadness and loneliness wash over us.
Loneliness is not what it seems. It’s is a state of mind. On looking more closely at loneliness, I can see that the old cliche is true: It’s possible to feel lonely while in a crowded room, and to feel connected and fulfilled while being completely alone.
The good news is that loneliness is a state of mind that can be managed, reframed, and turned into different, more fulfilling emotions. (There is hope!)
Unfortunately, I speak from experience in coping with this feeling. I went through a painful divorce when I was 31 that resulted in a brutal custody arrangement. For 18 years, my daughter split holidays between New York (with my family and me) and Saskatchewan (where her dad and his family live) every other year. And this started when she was only two. In the early years, the loneliness I felt was acute. I struggled to work through it.
Thankfully, years of trial and error, therapy, and helpful tools from my favorite gurus guided me to a place where I could work through these tough feelings. In fact, I found a way to even enjoy the holidays my daughter was away.
So what are some tips for feeling less loneliness this holiday season? Let’s take a look:
1. Remember – it is only one day. Try not to overly focus on the “holiday.”
Several years ago, one Saturday afternoon in December, I was feeling sad. That day, my daughter had a holiday concert at her elementary school. My parents drove to our town, and together we headed over to watch the festive performance. (Which was adorable!)
Later, at dinner, I quietly said to my mother, “I’m feeling so sad this year. I’m dreading the idea of Ava going away for the break.” My mom put her menu down and said, “Remember – it’s only one day. Maybe try not to make it into a big, dramatic ordeal.”
I wanted to get angry and say, “But, you don’t understand!!!” Instead, I quietly listened to her. And somewhere inside, I knew she was right. It was just a day. And in my case, the day could be celebrated another day – like the 27th, when she was planning to return. I needed to relax.
We tend to buy into the holiday build-up with such anticipation, only to discover how quickly the day comes and goes. We realize, “Wow! That was fast!” Then we think, “Why did I torture myself for so long thinking about this?” My dread of this one holiday was leading to unnecessary feelings of loneliness.
This leads me to the next idea:
2. Stay in the moment to feel less lonely this holiday season.
Back to the example above, instead of staying in the happy, present moment of my daughter’s holiday concert, I became lost in the story of how I might feel two weeks later. I was missing out on the fun and exciting day that I was having.
Feelings of dread come from thinking about the future or holding onto the past. One of my all-time favorite teachers, Eckart Tolle, says, “Focus your attention on the Now and tell me what problem you have at this moment.”
Over time, with a lot of practice, I became good at staying in the moment. When I sensed a sad story coming over me, I could stop myself and say, “What is wrong at this moment?” I’d look around and realize that all was well. I was in a comfortable, warm home watching a movie. Or, even worst-case scenario, I was sitting at dinner on Christmas Eve with family and without my daughter. But I was okay. The moment was fine – even fun!
I was able to get myself past my sad story of loneliness over the holidays. I learned it was possible, and eventually, it even became easy.
3. Remember the difference between loneliness and solitude while thinking of the holidays.
“Loneliness is the poverty of self. Solitude is the richness of self” – May Sarton
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 is a wonderful place to be. You’re in a state of contentment. In solitude, there is positive energy all around you.
You’re able to enjoy your own company. It’s possible to experience true contentment, openness, and grace in solitude while also sensing the many opportunities that are just beyond your fingertips. Spiritually you can begin to realize that you’re never truly alone. There is loving energy all around you.
4. The feeling of being “connected” is mainly a state of mind.
The opposite of lonely is feeling connected to others, and thankfully this is a state you can reach for while you’re alone or with others.
While spending time alone, you can think, “I know that I feel alone – but that I’m never alone. With a push of a button, I can be on a zoom call with my closest friends. I can walk out my door and enter my community. I can enjoy the quiet company of others if I choose to sit at a coffee shop and read for an hour or two.”
You can feel connected by gently lifting the walls around your heart. If you carry an energy of openness, you recognize the common humanity we all share. Soon you realize there is no reason to feel lonely this holiday season.
5. Allow the energy to flow when you’re out and about this holiday season.
In a recent story on gratitude, I learned that energetic connections with others happen all the time. When someone opens the door for you and you say, “Thank you,” and mean it, you’re subtly allowing yourself to connect with that person. It’s possible to have an energetic connection from something that simple.
Also, there are endless things you can do to connect to others. Call an old friend and reconnect over a cup of tea, 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. Allowing your energy to be open to connection is the antidote for feelings of loneliness this holiday season.
6. Channel your energy into giving back to feel less lonely over the holidays.
I know this sounds cliche – but it’s true!
When you decide to give back to others, your energy shifts immediately.
Nothing will take away your sadness more quickly than giving back to those less fortunate than you.
Reaching out to an organization that supports children in need will help you to refocus. Suddenly, after giving back, your sense of self shifts, and instead of feeling sad about yourself and your story, you become someone making a positive impact in your community. This is a significant mood booster.
Sending holiday cards to nursing home residents or sponsoring a family in need can work wonders in evoking the holiday spirit. It’s impossible to feel a sense of loneliness while connecting with others through holiday cards. 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.”
See a list of charities that support women’s empowerment here.
7. Put time and effort into gifting special items to your friends and family.
The Christmas whirlwind can feel overwhelming, especially when buying and preparing gifts. In a recent story on how to enjoy the holiday season more fully, I share tips from my friend, Michelle, on making the gift purchasing part more fun.
She suggests taking a full day and almost making a sport out of it. You can really enjoy it! Also, walking through your favorite stores and taking photos of things that catch your eye can make the online ordering part much more fun,
When you focus on bringing happiness and joy to others through buying or making gifts, you may feel happier, lighter, and less lonely. This is a strategy that truly works for me.
8. Lighten the mood and prioritize having some fun!
There are so many ways to mix it up.
If you have other friends that are single or alone on the holidays, planning a few nights away together could be a great idea. You can go on a ski trip or plan a trip to see the lights of NYC. Or, try keeping it simple. Have a group of friends over for an impromptu pizza party and dance contest. Don’t be afraid to break away from tradition and try something new.
Be a better support system for yourself and try to plan ahead. Which special meals do you want to make this season? And what 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.” 
Refocusing on celebration and fun will dampen feelings of loneliness over the holidays.
9. Light a candle and write a letter to yourself to feel less lonely this holiday season.
Lastly, take the time to write a love letter to yourself.
Greet yourself. Let yourself know that you see how far you’ve come. Let yourself feel whatever you need to feel.
Encourage yourself. Say things like:
You amaze me. No matter what happens, you work so hard to overcome challenges. There’s so much to look forward to! You are loved and so worthy of everything your heart desires.
Remember that DVF quote, “When a woman becomes her own best friend, life is easier.” Everything happening is bringing you closer to realizing this. Maybe being in this situation is kismet. It’s time to get to know yourself. You’ll love who you discover – making this the most meaningful holiday of all.
Note: This post was originally published on November 30, 2020 and has been updated for freshness, timeliness, and comprehensiveness.
Ps: Do you know someone feeling lonely this holiday season? Please forward to them today!