Holiday Loneliness – Navigating Loneliness Heading into the Holidays

Heili Lehr, MA, LPCC –

Are you feeling particularly unmotivated, sad, and lethargic as we get closer to the holidays?  You are far from alone!  Heading into month 10 of social distancing and isolation to stay safe from the pandemic is taking a huge toll on all of us.  The holidays are normally a time when we can shake off the rut of everyday life, put-up festive decorations, give and receive gifts, travel to see family we may only see a few times a year, share a special meal together, have parties and take time off from work to reconnect with family and friends.

These special times of celebration put a bookmark on the end of the year and give us a sense of starting fresh and going back to our regular lives renewed after New Year’s Day.  For most people, the holidays will look quite different this year.  The parties and gatherings with friends and families will be much smaller, if they can occur at all, and the promise of being able to return to a more normal life by next summer is still half a year away.

Navigating loneliness heading into the holidays means recognizing that feeling sad, lonely, unmotivated, and lethargic IS the normal reaction to the very abnormal situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes just getting through it is the best we can do.  I talk to so many people who are feeling guilty for not using this time to write the great American novel, learn to speak Mandarin or Marie Kondo their home.  One friend expressed feeling sheepish about her great excitement at having a doctor’s appointment, so she had an excuse to get dressed up and go out.

To keep these normal feelings of sadness, isolation, and frustration with the endless state of limbo we are all living in from sliding into a clinical depression, it is more important than ever to put some effort into finding individual ways cope.  This looks different for everyone but maintaining connections with others the best we can and doing small things to bring a bit of enjoyment into our lives can help.

Yes, we are all sick to death of Zoom, and phone calls are no substitute for lazy Christmas mornings lounging around in pajamas together, eating too much and watching football, but a phone call or Zoom session, even for an hour, will be worth the small effort it takes.  Seeing the faces of our family and friends, even on a screen, can be a real boost to morale.

It can seem pointless to stick to a routine when isolating at home, but we are creatures of habit, so establishing a schedule can bring a semblance of normalcy to what otherwise seems so unnatural and tedious.  It sounds cliché, but regular sleep, regular meals, getting outside during the day to take a walk, and keeping your environment clean and organized really does make us feel better and more in control.

Even if you will be alone over the holidays and nothing will be the same, accepting that this year will be different and focusing on what you still can do to make the season special will put you back in the driver’s seat rather than feeling helpless in the face of circumstances beyond your control.  Adopting a “Plan B” mindset and creatively working to find ways to celebrate within the confines of what is possible this year will make you feel less despondent over what treasured traditions are not possible.

It is a difficult thing to acknowledge that being sad, upset, and disappointed about what is lost is normal and appropriate, while simultaneously embracing an acceptable alternative to holiday traditions this year.  It is not an “either-or”, but instead a “both-and”.   If ways to cope are feeling elusive and you are having difficulty finding any pockets of connection with others and enjoyment in life, do not hesitate to reach out for counseling.  Having a non-judgmental outlet to express your frustration and gain some outside perspective on finding ways to cope can be enormously helpful during these stressful times.