Holiday Loneliness During COVID-19: It’s Not Just You

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If you’re feeling a little less festive during the holidays this year, you’re not alone. Many people experience holiday loneliness during the weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. This year, because of COVID-19, those feelings can be even more acute. For some people, this will be the first year that they spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or New Year’s Eve without other people.

loneliness holidays
Photo: Alex Ivashenko for unsplash

Many of us have been isolated for most of 2020. And that isolation will likely continue into 2021, for at least a few months. Things that many of us take for granted—eating at a restaurant, going to a football game, or enjoying a friend’s birthday party—have been temporarily shut down.

And 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—during this particular year—and what can be done to alleviate the effects.

Loneliness Is Different for Everyone

In her clever 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 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.” But millions of others feel differently. Their experiences range from mild anxiety, to sadness and depression, to outright rage at being forced to spend time without other people.

It’s Normal to Feel Lonely

Feelings are just that: feelings. They come and go, ebbing and flowing like the tide. And 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. A recent piece 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.”

She has a point.

Tips for Dealing with Loneliness

Many recommendations for alleviating holiday loneliness involve changing expectations and routine. If you’ve always gone to a friend’s house for a party and can’t attend this year, consider having an online party instead, via FaceTime, Google Meet, Skype, or Zoom.

Or instead of waiting for the phone to ring, consider calling someone else—someone who might also be waiting for the phone to ring. Part of feeling good about the holidays means doing something to improve another person’s holiday time.

Writing for the Harvard University Medical School blog, Stephanie Collier, MD, MPH, recommends limiting news consumption. (We all get too much of it.) She also suggests that the simple act of smiling can improve one’s mood. If it sounds too easy, well, it is!

Kate Gorman, a psychotherapist in Nyack, New York, suggests making a plan for say, Christmas Day, and not leaving the day’s events to chance. She recalls, “One of my friends said that she always takes a special hike. You can’t make your mind go someplace that it doesn’t want to go, but you can make a plan that is very nurturing to yourself.”

And as therapist Elaine Rondino notes, “Just get through it. Read. Sleep. Rent a video. And remember, tomorrow it’ll all be over.”

lonely COVID-19
Photo: The Humantra for unsplash

The Relationship Between Loneliness and Alcohol

It may be tempting to drink your way through the holidays. (We hope you won’t, of course.) Perhaps some of the ideas in these articles will give you a new way of looking at being alone for the holidays. 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. And if you think you might need a little help cutting down, Ria Health might be an option you haven’t thought of. We’re not rehab. We don’t require abstinence. You don’t have to leave your house, your family, or your job to make changes. (And you’ll be at home for all of the holidays you want.)

Some people who try Ria’s method just want to cut down on their drinking. But they later find that their interest in alcohol has simply evaporated.

Now wouldn’t that be a good holiday gift—to yourself?


Written By:
Bruce Hodges
New York-based writer, editor, and fundraising consultant with over three decades of experience.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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