Battling the Holiday Blues: 5 Tips to Overcome Loneliness

The holidays, like any time of year that brings people together, can affect us all differently. For those of us who are not able to be with the people we care about, the holiday season can be particularly painful, bringing up feelings of sadness, regret, or loneliness. Particularly when it seems like everyone around us is busy, sociable, and happy as can be, the feeling of loneliness itself can be even more isolating.

The truth is, loneliness of some sort hits many of us around this time of year.

Here are five strategies you can use to cope with those feelings this holiday season (or the next time you feel lonesome).

Reach Out

One of the hardest things to do when you’re feeling lonely is to act sociable. When we’re feeling isolated, we often mentally downplay the extent to which the people in our lives care for us and we assume that new people will be hard to befriend. Not only is this negativity not true, but the cruel irony is that being social is the most robust way to heal from loneliness. So brace yourself. Connect with your innate optimism that people do care, as well as your motivation to feel better, and fake some sociability. Call the people in your life who you haven't spoken to in awhile. Find a fitness class and say hello to the person next to you. Join a group doing your favorite hobby, and say yes to the invitations you get, even when you feel like sitting on the couch and watching Netflix.

Use Technology (for Good, Not Evil)

Technology and happiness have a complex relationship. Yes, our interconnectedness grants us opportunities to create moments with people who are on the other side of the world. But it can also  leave us feeling less than. When you’re feeling lonely, be mindful of your social media behaviors.

If you’re already negatively comparing yourself to others, browsing through photos or posts that paint picture-perfect lives can exaggerate those feelings. Recognize that hardly anyone ever posts pictures of the traffic jam on I-95 on their way to Grandma’s or writes details about their bickering with their spouses. Better yet, step back from passive forms of social media altogether and get active. Technology is usually a better social conduit for happiness when we are actively using it to reach out to another, specific person. Send an email to someone you miss. Or Skype with your niece across the country. And notice how differently you feel once you are actively engaging someone else.

Savor Human Moments

Even when we’re feeling particularly isolated, there are opportunities for human connection all around us. If you find that your loneliness is partly due to excessive homebody-ness, get out. Run a few errands. Bring your mail to the post office just because. And although it may be difficult, focus on the one-on-one interactions you are able to have with people around town.

Giving a genuine compliment or stopping to ask someone about their day and giving your full attention to their response can provide a strong boost of positive emotion for both of you.

Be an Advocate

Even if you're not feeling lonely, recognize that others may be. Take a proactive stance on reducing the amount of loneliness in your own social circle. Who are the people you know who may be feeling alone? Remember that the lonelier someone feels, the less likely they are to reach out, and so it may not be apparent who these people are. Consider an older family member, perhaps, or someone whose kids have moved away and won’t be home for the holidays this year. Extend a kind word to them. A warm hug. An invitation to dinner. A small gesture on your part can have a big impact and increase the happiness within your world.

Go Outside of Yourself

Helping others is one of the best ways you can help yourself, no matter what mood you’re in. But especially if you’re feeling sad or alone, finding opportunities to volunteer and give something to others pulls you out of the trap of overly focusing on yourself and your feelings. You might find opportunities by contacting your local United Way or Red Cross branch, or calling a specific organization such as a local school or church where you’d like to pitch in. Keep an eye out for volunteer openings that will encourage you to work face-to-face with others, either the people you’re serving or with a team of volunteers. Knowing that you’re doing something good and meaningful can help you overcome fears or obstacles you might face when interacting with others.

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