Managing Holiday Loneliness with Self-Compassion

Good cheer, happiness, family and a spirit of giving are a big part of the holiday season. But for many people, stress and loneliness are major players that upset plans to stay positive. If your tension level rises when the decor goes up, you are not alone. It is common for some people to feel more anxious or lonely as the season begins.

Holiday stress can trigger negative thinking that builds on itself. To avoid this cycle, we can take this opportunity to find new comforts and enjoy the holidays differently. We can take simple, meaningful steps for healthy self-care, and put some fun back into our celebrations.

Managing Expectations of Yourself and Others

No matter how cheerful people appear, the holidays are stressful for almost everyone. It’s chaotic for most people. There are more cars on the road, more people in the stores, and more events on the schedule. All these pressures mean people are more quickly flustered or annoyed.

At the same time, we are swamped with ideal images of laughing friends, joyful children, loving couples and dazzling dinner tables. Most people look around and feel the grass is greener for everyone else, while for them, important parts of life are missing or inadequate.

As hard as it may seem, try to insert something positive into your life, even if it’s small. You might brainstorm some plans you would enjoy such as:

  • Volunteering at a shelter for those in need, or an animal shelter
  • Seeing a friend for coffee or taking time to call someone you care for
  • Taking your dog to a favorite trail or dog park
  • Seeing an art exhibit, free concert or holiday display
  • Doing something nice for yourself – like having your hair done or getting a massage
  • Finally reading that book you haven’t had time to pick up

Actively planning something fun for yourself is important. This helps focus attention away from negative thoughts, which can run away with our thinking without good self-care.

Managing Loneliness

If sad or lonely feelings arise for you, meet them with compassion, so you can understand them and soothe them before they consume more of your thoughts. It is healthy and normal to feel sad — even deeply — if you are missing someone or something special in your life.

Acknowledge the pain you are experiencing. Give yourself some time to feel annoyed, hurt or unhappy about the situation. Actively give yourself permission to do more self-care over the next six weeks.

Take a little time to know the reasons you feel as you do. Sadness usually has an understandable cause. For example, you may feel disappointed about work, or about a relationship that is not going well. Self-care can range from letting disappointment pass to making plans to get support from therapy for the situation you are in.

You may feel sad that an important relationship is not how you want it to be. We live in a culture that is quick to shame and blame those who don’t have their ‘act together.’ Self-criticism is hard to overcome without support.   That is why good self-care is important especially now. It helps guide self-talk toward positive ways of making change, and avoid unhealthy habits such as beating up on yourself or becoming isolated.

How to Ease Holiday Loneliness with Self-Compassion

How do you gently own and process your loneliness or stress to give it compassion, rather than get stuck in it?

  • Spend time thinking through your feelings. Talk yourself through what has happened and why you might reasonably feel the way you do: “This has been a rough year. I can understand where this feeling comes from. I am going through a really hard time.”
  • Give yourself the same compassion you would offer a friend. You might say to yourself, for example: “If I don’t want to go to all of these activities that’s okay. I’ll just choose one.” For a relationship that isn’t as good as you want it to be, you can have a truce. “If thing’s aren’t perfect between us today, it’s all right for now; I accept us the way we are.” (Your personal safety always comes first. You need no one’s permission to opt out of plans where you do not feel physically or emotionally safe.)
  • Allow sad feelings, and allow yourself some fun too. There is nothing wrong with feeling what we feel, and participating in the season’s events anyway. Sadness is an important part of dealing with loss or disappointment, and prompting positive change. Sadness does not wipe out the chance to have fun – in fact you can still be sad about one thing, and have fun doing something else without letting sadness stop you.

It is normal, when you are sad, to feel like curling up on the couch for a day. But if you’re curling up for two months, that’s a sign that something important needs attention, and that it’s time to ask for help.

When to Get Help to Handle Holiday Stress

It is important to know the difference between sadness and depression, because you will need to respond differently to each one. Sadness allows you to function. You can feel sad and still show up for your favorite charity or see a friend for coffee. But if you stay locked in your house and you’re not seeing anyone, it may be time to address this with a skilled therapist.

Sadness will likely heal by itself in time. Depression may not lift on its own. Getting a careful diagnosis and support in therapy is likely to be very important to long-term change for the better.

Remember that everyone experiences stress in their own way, and putting their best foot forward as well as they can. Judging how you feel inside by how others look outside is not a fair comparison.

There is no perfect family or perfect holiday gathering – and they don’t need to be perfect for you to enjoy yourself. By actively choosing something fun for yourself, you can create your own rituals or habits to look forward to year after year.

Other Reading From the Blog

More Resources

An Adult Child Abuse Survivor’s Guide to the Holidays by Dr. Kathleen Young

Stress, Depression and the Holidays: Tips for Coping by Mayo Clinic Staff

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff

Phone Applications for Relaxation

About the Author

Robyn E. Brickel, M.A., LMFT Robyn E. Brickel, MA, LMFT is the director and lead therapist at Brickel and Associates, LLC in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, which she founded in 1999. She specializes in the therapeutic treatment of individuals (adolescents and adults), couples, families and groups. Robyn E. Brickel offers treatment and psychoeducational services for many life issues and transitions, such as: A history of trauma and/or abuse, including Dissociation; Addictions, as well as Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) issues; Body Image issues and Eating Disorders; Self-Harming behaviors, including Emotional intensity and instability; Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders; Challenged family systems; Chronic illness; Co-dependency; Dysfunctional relationships; Life transitions; Loss and bereavement; Relationship distress; Self esteem; GLBTQ and sexual identity issues/struggles; Stress reduction. She is an LMFT, as well as a trained trauma & addictions therapist who has helped countless clients make and maintain positive changes in their lives. To learn more about Robyn E. Brickel, visit her website.

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