The holiday season is a joyful time for some people but troubling for others.
Loneliness is one of the primary reasons people aren’t excited about all the festivities. Maybe they’re separated from family and friends by geographical or emotional distance. Perhaps they don’t have any family left and or a significant other. It’s possible they have few friends, or are simply more introverted than other individuals, which makes socializing difficult. Or, there aren’t many pleasant holiday memories, so it’s not exactly a time filled with anticipation and joy.
When people are in recovery, loneliness is a tangible existence. Two primary reasons are:
- They might be surrounded by people but don’t feel heard, cared for, or understood
- They don’t see or talk to other individuals frequently or in meaningful ways
Someone managing sobriety and possibly mental health issues might find the rush and flurry of the holiday season too much to handle. Typical rituals—such as eat, drink, and be merry!—might not fit in their current lifestyle. They might withdraw from interactions as a result, which only compounds feelings of isolation and depression.
You Have Options to Make This Time Easier
Everyone deals with holiday expectations. These can be both positive and negative. What’s more, feeling stressed during this time is so universal that many medical centers provide extensive advice on how to deal with it.
For example, the Mayo Clinic outlines tips for coping with depression and stress during the holidays. They include:
- Accept and address how you feel
- Reach out if you’re lonely
- Stay realistic about expectations
- Find ways to move beyond differences with others
- Keep up with healthy habits
Mayo’s suggestions for reaching out if you feel isolated include religious, community, and other social events. Being a part of these functions fosters a sense of togetherness and purpose.
The University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center expands your options with these ideas:
- Find regular moments of gratitude.
- When something good happens, spend a bit of time to savor it.
- Set an intention to enjoy what you can of the holidays.
- Do generous things for the wellbeing of other people, such as opening doors or being fully present during someone else’s story.
How do these suggestions help you alleviate loneliness during the holidays? They help you shift from the “me” mind to the “we” mind. This subtle adjustment in thinking, also described as individualism vs. collectivism, allows you to see yourself as one vital part of a larger community. Some studies indicate individual isolation may be both a circumstance and a cultural choice—and can be remedied by selecting social activities designed to improve a community’s overall wellbeing.
Making the Most of the Holidays
If you’re on a recovery journey, have you really made an effort to acknowledge the courage in your decision and help other people do the same? One way to feel less lonely during this time of year is to celebrate not just surviving, but thriving. Consider:
- Some individuals in your 12-Step program might feel isolated, too. So bring up the topic during a meeting or over a cup of coffee with your sponsor. Take action to encourage people who might not have other options to join each other for a meal, a holiday play, a candlelight service, or another type of season-specific event. This will help everyone create new, positive memories.
- Speaking of positive activities, muster the courage to participate in something, no matter how challenging it is at first to leave the house. While your feelings are valid, they’re not set in stone. If the holidays get you down, exercise, visit the library for a lecture, attend a free event at a music or bookstore, and seek out other ways to shift your emotional state.
- When you go to holiday gatherings, remember all the different aspects that make the season bright. Make decorations. Play outside. Cook or bake one special thing that’s easy to share with other people. At the holiday office party, be the DJ or the game host. Even if your mood is low, these and other small gestures help you be involved and in the spirit of things.
- Returning to the point of “me” vs. “we”: try volunteering. Time and again, giving back during recovery demonstrates a medically-proven way to improve your outlook and health, especially if the holiday season triggers the potential for relapse. It’s not as though you’re stifling your feelings while helping others—but the risk of ruminating over troubling thoughts decreases while you’re involved in caring about someone or something else. Volunteer work also widens your social circle, connecting you with people who share your compassion and purpose.
- Between October and January, there are many displays of both religious and secular traditions. So another way to reduce feelings of loneliness is to create social rituals. If you’re spiritual, act on your faith by joining a small group or participating in a mission effort. If you’re less inclined to religious observance, there are still ways to establish meaningful rituals. Join a running club. Find a meditation group. Participate in some type of cultural event or hobby you enjoy that requires regular commitment. When you prioritize healthy rituals, there’s a stronger chance you’ll meet other people with the same intent.
- Remember that tidbit above about expectations? Always remember you have the option to frame what the holidays mean to you. Maybe they don’t really have a lot of significance, but people seem to pity you because you’re not going “home” at Thanksgiving, for example. Then, you feel like maybe you’re missing out on something. Their expectations of the holidays don’t have to match yours. Any day, any time of year, can be a time of celebration, reflection, and hope.