What to Do When You're Lonely During the Holidays
The holidays are supposed to be a time of togetherness, and while that in itself is a beautiful thing, this expectation can also inadvertently remind us of what we don’t have.
It can be hard seeing families come together when your family situation is complicated, or even toxic.
It can be heartbreaking watching commercial after commercial about holiday gifts, when you’re worried about what you’ll be able to afford this year, or feel like you have no one to give a gift to.
It can be excruciating to see the holidays advertised as the “most wonderful time of the year” when your depression doesn’t take a winter break.
If you can relate, you’re not the only one feeling like this. Whether you’re struggling with your mental health or fear you’ll have no one to turn to, we wanted to list some tangible things you can do around the holidays. We asked our mental health community for some suggestions to get us started.
Sometimes the pressure to act or feel a certain way around the holidays is worse than our actual feelings, so do yourself a favor and put away those gift-wrapped expectations. Make the holidays your own. We hope some of the suggestions below help.
1. Volunteer your time.
“Choose to be someone else’s someone… serve someone.” — Nonda N.
“Try doing something for someone else. There are tons of people who don’t have anyone or anything for Christmas. Just donating a toy is sure to make you smile.” — Sierra B.
“Give! Give your time to others. Spend time with other people in different, lonely situations. Soup kitchen, hospice, nursing home, shelter, food pantry, etc.! Doing for someone else is often the best medicine.” — Tanya L.
As Mighty contributor Nonda N. said, “Choose to be someone else’s someone.” When you’re feeling lonely and isolated during the holidays, finding somewhere to volunteer can be an amazing way to remind yourself the reason for the season. Whether you volunteer at a local soup kitchen, or donate clothing items and toys, giving back to someone else is one way to fill your own heart with joy. When we can’t help ourselves, sometimes it’s easier to find the motivation to give to others. Here are some tangible ways you can give back this holiday season:
• Visit FoodPantries.org to find a food pantry in your area.
• Donate to Toys for Tots.
• Write “love letters” for people who need extra support with More Love Letters.
• Visit VolunteerMatch.com to find more opportunities in your area.
2. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t want to volunteer, and do something for yourself instead.
“I try to show them that I care without resorting to the ‘go and volunteer’ advice that people love to give someone who is lonely for the holidays. Volunteering does not substitute for the close connections one yearns for and is tiring to hear.” — Melissa A.
“Take this time to spoil yourself.” — Katie C.
Not to discount our first suggestion, but we get it. Sometimes when you’re feeling alone, the last thing you want to hear is “go volunteer” — and some years are different than others. While one year a volunteering experience might be exactly what you need, don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling less charitable. We’re all just doing the best we can.
So, do something for yourself. Buy yourself a present. If you have a few days off for the holidays, do something nice for you. The holidays are about giving, but that also includes giving to ourselves. If that’s what you need to do this holiday season, this is your official permission slip to take that time for you.
3. Spend time with animals.
“Spend your time with animals. Go volunteer at a local shelter and give love to all those animals who don’t have a family.” — Kimy B.
Owning a pet in general can be a great form of support, and there is tons of research that shows pets are good for your mental health. If you don’t own a pet, maybe there’s an animal shelter in your area you can visit this holiday season. Being around animals can make us feel a little less alone, and spending time nurturing or taking care of an animal in need can be a great way to give back while giving yourself some comfort.
4. Have a therapist or someone you trust make a recording you can turn to in a dark moment.
“This is especially hard because most therapists are also off during the holidays. It feels really frightening and I always dread it every year. They have recorded me voice recordings to help me through the period.” — Monika S.
The holidays can be a scary time if you feel like you don’t have a support system. When your therapist is unavailable and all your good friends are out of town, it can feel like you’ve been left behind. That’s why I love this suggestion from community member Monika S., whose therapist makes her a voice recording.
If you’re worried about getting through the holidays — but don’t feel comfortable reaching out to your therapist — ask a friend or family member to make a video recording, a voice recording or even a handwritten letter you can turn to during a dark moment. You can even offer to swap support with someone you love. Who knows? Maybe your friend will need something to turn to, too.
5. Create boundaries that make you feel comfortable.
“Oh, dear, we are all so lonely. We struggle and we fear. It is almost harder to be with those you love than on your own. If that’s what you need, to be on your own, then darling, say it. Let your family know you love them but you just need your solace. If it is the opposite and you really need that connection, then reach out, to friends, to family, there will be somebody for you. If not, send me a message and I’ll be here.” — Patrick A.
“Just because it’s shoved down our throats that the holidays is a time where we need to be around people, doesn’t mean it’s healthy to go back to toxic people in our lives. It’s OK to be alone during the holidays.” — Chloe L.
Sometimes we feel lonely during the holidays not because we literally have no one around, but because the people around us take our energy and don’t give us much back in return. If the only present Santa gets you is pressure to see a draining or difficult people, know it’s OK to set boundaries. It’s OK to limit or skip holiday activities that don’t bring you joy. Check out our piece on setting boundaries with someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries here.
6. Start a new tradition.
“Start a new tradition. I make it a point to make sure my youngest and only one left in the nest gets special times and crafts. Think more of someone you love and focus on them.” — Shelly C.
“It’s hard to see all those families laughing and filling their homes full of love. It’s even harder to be in the room and feel no love at all. There is no problem with you, you are not unlikable. You have just as much worth as everyone else. The holidays can be whatever you want them to be. Make your own traditions, let people you trust in, create a holiday that is yours and not anyone else’s. Your value will never be dictated by the number of cards you receive or texts sent to you at Christmas. You matter.” — Charlotte U.
Many people look forward to the holidays for sentimental reasons. Maybe you always see the same ordainments on your Christmas tree, or get to light an old, family menorah. Maybe your family tradition isn’t religious at all, but instead includes family time, inside jokes and food you love to eat.
But — this isn’t the case for everyone. If you don’t have a supportive family or traditions you look forward to, it can hard to watch others partake in these festivities. (Thanks a lot, social media.) That’s why, Mighty community member Charlotte U. suggests, “Create a holiday that is yours and not anyone else’s.”
If there a certain food you crave every year around the holidays? A movie that brings you comfort, or an activity you love? Think of something that moves you and make that a tradition. Why is it a tradition? Because you say so. That’s enough. You don’t have to do something because everyone is doing it, or just because you did it in the past. Make the most of your holiday time, whatever that looks like to you.
7. Reach out to a safe online community.
“Reach out. Reach out to old friends or try to meet new ones. There is always room for you.” — Roxy R.
If you’re feeling lonely during the holidays, there are so many supportive online communities to turn to. While of course it’s not good that so many people seem to struggle around the holidays, connecting with people who are going through it can remind you you’re not alone — and you can even help others by offering support.
Here are some online communities to turn to:
• Connect with someone on 7 Cups, an online “safe” space to talk about your mental health.
• Find a buddy through The Buddy Project, a non-profit movement that pairs people with online buddies, with the goal of preventing suicide and self-harm.
8. Go somewhere different — literally or through entertainment.
“Two things … if you can travel, be a tourist somewhere and take pictures of beautiful things that make you smile. Go to the movies all day if you can’t be a tourist…” — Arlyne B.
If you have some time off for the holidays, take the opportunity to escape from your regular routine. Whether that means visiting a part of town you’ve never been to, trying out a new restaurant or binge-watching your favorite movies just to get out of your own head for a while, the holidays can be a great time to “turn-off” the part of your brain that’s always focusing on your day-to-day responsibilities. Escape for a while — you deserve it.
9. Find a holiday event in your area.
“Go to church services, join in with celebrations and events they may be holding. You will meet new people and may even make a friend. If you don’t make a friend it might still be nice to be surrounded by others at this time.” — Sbonny S.
“If you can, attend a community dinner or party. Hopefully you can find one in your area. Try not to isolate. Volunteer. There should be plenty of places looking for volunteers for the holidays. I wish you well.” — Rebecca R.
If you feel motivated to get up and out of the house, there might be community events in your area you can attend. See what festivities your local church is holding. If you do like holiday-themes activities, is there a tree lighting ceremony you can go to? Ice skating? A community dinner? Google what’s going on in your area, or check out MeetUp.com for groups gathering around specific holiday-themed activities. The holidays are about opening our hearts to strangers… so don’t be afraid to let someone open their heart to you.
10. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. You never know — they might need support, too.
“If no one is reaching out to you, maybe try reach out to someone? It can either be to someone for help (stating that you’re in need of support) or someone else who is in need as well or perhaps even volunteering somewhere.” — Christa O.
“Call someone (a friend/family member/etc.) and just talk.” — Kennedy O.
“Reach out to friends and family anyway. You may be surprised who’d love you to join their gathering for the holidays. Just because you didn’t receive an invitation doesn’t mean they wouldn’t love to have you. They may think you already have plans or don’t want to go anywhere, etc. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you.” — Rebecca R.
“Surround yourself as much as possible… anyone that fills your life. Including co-workers, friends, classmates, acquaintances or anyone that gives you any type of happiness no matter how small. I’ve noticed that you always have at least one person and it doesn’t have to be someone super close to you, but someone is there.” — Breanne B.
The most important thing to remember this holiday season is that it’s OK to let go of what you’re supposed to do. If you’d rather be alone, don’t feel pressure to be around people. If “holiday cheer” leaves a bad taste in your mouth, go see an action movie and forget about the season altogether.
But, if you’re really feeling lonely and need someone to talk to, know that The Mighty community is here for you. By being here on this page, we consider you part of our community. If you’re struggling, we encourage you to post a Thought or Question on our site to get support from other people in our community who get it.
The holidays are just a time of year, just like any other. Make it whatever you want to — the season belongs to you.
On the flip side, if you know someone who’s struggling in isolation, don’t wait for them to reach out to you. Here’s a list of texts people wished they received when they were isolating if you want to reach out, but don’t know what to say.
What advice would you give to someone who’s struggling during the holidays? Let us know in the comments below.