Feeling lonely can happen any time of year, but it’s often more apparent during the holiday season. Loneliness is a valid emotion, and it’s fine to acknowledge it. It’s also a feeling you can change with a certain level of acceptance and helpful actions.
Alone Vs. Lonely
First, it’s important to understand the difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Many people are perfectly fine with their own company:
- They have particular activities or hobbies they enjoy.
- They prefer not to make unnecessary small talk with others.
- They deliberately seek out moments of peace and quiet.
- They use their alone time for positive personal development.
While these characteristics are frequently associated with introverted personalities, anyone can find a balance between quality alone time and socializing.
Next, when you feel lonely, there’s usually a reason. Here are some frequent causes, according to the nonprofit Mind.com:
- “I feel detached because there’s no one I talk to daily.”
- “I’m choosing to live sober, so none of the people I used to know are in my life now.”
- “My mental health condition isolates me, and makes it more challenging to connect with other people.”
- “I believe no one understands me or my emotions.”
- “I enjoy particular hobbies and activities, but there’s no one in my area who shares my interests.”
- “Nothing is familiar because I live in a new place or have a different job.”
All of these reasons are valid and require deliberate action to change.
Researchers know now that long-term loneliness isn’t healthy, but the emotion wasn’t studied with any seriousness until the 1970s. While at UCLA during that time, Daniel Russell was one of the pioneering researchers who discovered the importance of studying causes of loneliness, and methods by which people could work through this emotion successfully.
Here’s an abridged version of Russell’s loneliness quiz. If your score is above 20, it might be helpful to consider what’s making you feel lonely, especially during the holidays, and in what ways you can make connections that matter.
Why the Holidays Are Such a Trying Time
Even if a person isn’t in recovery, loneliness is a real concern for many individuals. Statistics indicate as many as 45 million people in the U.S. feel chronically lonely. What is it about the holiday season that compounds the effects of this condition?
Margarita Tartakovsky is a clinical psychologist. In this article for Psych Central, she notes that “According to psychologist Joyce Marter, ‘many people feel tremendous pressure to be happy and socially connected.’ There’s a prevailing sense that everyone is living a Hallmark movie with the ideal family and perfect celebrations, she said. That is, everyone but you. This can trigger feelings of isolation.”
Without question, not everyone lives a storybook existence. Maybe certain circumstances caused family estrangement. Or maybe your previous social group doesn’t support your choice to live more healthfully.
Isolation and upset over expectations often causes depression, which can manifest into something more intense if you’re not managing stress well. For example, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed during the holidays because of time constraints, financial obligations, or the typical busyness. The Mayo Clinic offers some helpful tips to make the holidays more enjoyable—and realistic:
- Accept how you feel and make a progressive effort to work through it.
- Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re lonely—it’s okay to make the first move.
- Maintain a dedication to healthy habits.
- If there’s a relationship that could be better, work toward a resolution.
The holiday season isn’t a magical time that automatically makes everything okay. But if you can adjust how you feel now, you’ll create the foundation for healthy habits that serve you all year long.
Ways to Not Feel Lonely
Think about the reasons why the holidays make you feel lonelier, and try some of these actions to make better connections.
- Giving back helps you establish a purpose, and you can have as little or as much involvement as you like with something that interests you. You’ll also receive acknowledgement of your efforts, which might help you develop more meaningful relationships.
- Arizona-based Meetup Groups provide a one-stop look at different groups involved in activates you might enjoy. For example, a Tucson search reveals numerous gatherings, from meditation and free guitar lessons to writing and biking. Plug in a few things you’re interested in near where you live and see what pops up.
- Create new holiday traditions or rituals that reflect who you are now. Whether you do this with your natural family or people who represent your “chosen family,” ease out of a lonely state with some new traditions you can look forward to sharing. Make a holiday feast with foods from around the world. Invite everyone to a park for games and a potluck. Help an elderly neighbor decorate. Have an ugly sweater party and watch a holiday movie. Whatever you enjoy, gather some people together and make new memories.
- Work with your therapist, recovery counselor, or a support-group sponsor to manage expectations and use specific coping skills to get through some of the most challenging aspects of the holidays.
- Reconnect with the community that understands your experiences, such as an AA or another recovery group, some people you met during your stay at Cottonwood or some other treatment center, or a wellness collective. You don’t have to make excuses or apologies—and you don’t have to dwell on the negative, either. They get it, so you can move through how you feel more easily.
At Cottonwood Tucson, we try to help people stay connected through our social media community and the Recovery in Action Alumni Group that meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. You’ll find plenty of goodwill wherever you go.