8 Tips to Cope with Holiday Loneliness

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If you’re feeling a little less-than-festive for the holidays this year, you’re not alone. Many people experience holiday loneliness in the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

loneliness holidays
Photo: Alex Ivashenko for unsplash

In some cases, post-pandemic worries remain, and people fear gathering with others due to the risk of exposure to illnesses. This can cause them to feel lonely and isolated. In other cases, holiday loneliness is based on missing loved ones, being single, or not having a close group of friends.

Then there are those societal expectations. This time of year, the social pressure to “be happy” can be relentless: “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you celebrating?” Let’s take a look at the phenomenon of loneliness during the holidays, and what can be done to offset the effects.

Being Alone Doesn’t Always Mean Loneliness

In her savvy article called 51 Things to Do on Christmas—Alone, Australian writer Aletheia Luna notes, “Being alone is not the same as being lonely. The two are totally different experiences. To set the record straight: being alone is something we enjoy or choose. Being lonely is something we fear and avoid.”

Some people aren’t bothered by being alone. Shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic began, Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, commented on how comfortable he feels, being at home by himself: “I feel like I’m made for social distancing.”

This shows that for some, alone time is enjoyable rather than lonely. However, we know this isn’t everyone’s experience, especially at the holidays.

Tips for Dealing with Holiday Loneliness

Many recommendations for alleviating holiday loneliness involve changing expectations and routines. Even if you’re going to be alone for the holidays, there are ways you can reframe your situation to experience more holiday cheer. Let’s explore some tips to consider when coping with holiday loneliness.

Communicate via technology: If you can’t be with loved ones in person this year consider FaceTime, Google Meet, Skype, or Zoom. Just a simple phone call can lift your spirits!

Check out community events: Many towns have tree-lighting or menorah-lighting events. You are sure to find holiday craft shows at your local library, mall, or farm market. Being “around” people when you can’t be “with” people can reduce feelings of loneliness around the holidays.

Be of service: There is no better way to beat the holiday blues than to help others in need. Consider volunteering at an animal shelter, nursing home, or toy drive. Or simply bring a plate of goodies to an elderly neighbor.

Maintain healthy routines: Physical and emotional well-being go hand in hand. You will be better equipped to combat holiday loneliness if you eat well, get adequate sleep, and exercise regularly. Community fitness centers are great for both exercise and social connection.

Enjoy the beauty of the season: Take a drive around town to enjoy the lights and decorations. If you live in a colder climate it can be fun to bundle up, pack a thermos of hot cocoa, and take a stroll. Cranking up favorite holiday tunes can be a great mood booster too.

Don’t buy into the hype: Social media posts, TV ads, and Hallmark movies can bombard us with images of the “perfect” holiday. Remember there is no such thing! Keeping the holidays simple can be more enjoyable because there is less stress and chaos.

Enjoy the solitude: This time off from work can be a great opportunity to catch up on books, movies, hobbies, or video games you want to enjoy. Or why not treat yourself to a delicious meal, favorite dessert, or day at the spa?

Try journaling: Putting pen to paper can have many benefits. Writing about your feelings of loneliness can be very therapeutic. You might also want to write about things you are grateful for (family, friends, pets, good health, a warm bed, etc.) or the things you want to do in the coming year.

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Is it Normal to Feel Lonely During the Holidays?

Feelings are just that: feelings. They come and go, and ebb and flow like the tide. Feeling lonely at times is natural; it happens to all of us. But there are ways to feel less lonely, and perhaps to find silver linings in the situation. An article in Penn Medicine News encourages people not to “shrug off” those feelings of sadness.

lonely isolation
Photo: Wicked Sheila for unsplash

People sometimes have unrealistic expectations about what holidays are supposed to “be.” At the University of Washington, Hsuan Hsuan Dai observes, “The whole world is talking about the holidays and what people should be doing. If you’re alone during this time, it can feel like you don’t fit into the expectations of the holiday season.”

In an article for Oprah Magazine, Stephanie L. King wryly notes, “And while, yes, you’ll probably miss your mom’s legendary bread pudding, there are plenty of things you might be happy to skip, like faking your surprise (and excitement) when Aunt Sue gives you yet another old-fashioned nightgown, sitting through the same political debates, and having to get dressed up just to eat at your own dining room table.”

lonely COVID-19
Photo: The Humantra for unsplash

The Relationship Between Loneliness and Alcohol

Do you find yourself reaching for a drink when you’re lonely? A study cited by the National Institute of Health explored the connection between loneliness and alcohol. It stated, “The feeling of loneliness appears to be more connected with a general negative perception about oneself and one’s relations to other people and also with a general dissatisfaction with most things in life.”

Many people turn to alcohol to dull those feelings. So while loneliness can be situational as in the case of the holiday season, it may be more pervasive in some cases. If you find yourself feeling lonely in general it might be helpful to talk to a professional about the root causes.

It may be tempting to drink your way through the holidays if you are feeling lonely. Other holiday-related drinking triggers may be stress, pressure to partake, or difficult family dynamics. Perhaps some of the ideas shared here will give you a new way of looking at being alone for the holidays and help combat these difficult emotions in productive ways.

If you are alone this year, remember, you won’t be the first, and you won’t be the last. Millions of people have survived holiday loneliness, and you can, too.

If you do find yourself looking to alcohol for solace, try not to overdo it. If you’ve been sober recently, and have a relapse, know that you’re not alone here, either. Be kind and forgiving to yourself.

Finally, if you think you might need a little help cutting down, Ria Health might be an option you haven’t considered. We’re not rehab. We don’t require abstinence. You don’t have to leave your house, or your job to make changes. Our telehealth program gives you access to expert medical support, online coaching, and more—all from an app on your smartphone.

Some people who try Ria’s method just want to cut down on their drinking. But they later find—sometimes surprisingly—that their interest in alcohol has simply evaporated. Now wouldn’t that be a good holiday gift—to yourself?


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Written By:
Lisa Keeley
Lisa Keeley is a freelance writer who believes in the uplifting power of words. She especially enjoys writing about health, relationships, employment, and living one’s best life. Lisa has a Master’s in Education and previously worked in vocational and educational services. Her articles can be found on Your Tango, Thrive Global, Heart to Heart, Medium, Muck Rack, and on various professional websites.
Reviewed By:
Ria Health Team
Ria Health’s editorial team is a group of experienced copywriters, researchers, and healthcare professionals dedicated to removing stigma and improving public knowledge around alcohol use disorder. Articles written by the “Ria Team” are collaborative works completed by several members of our writing team, fact-checked and edited to a high standard of empathy and accuracy.

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