How to Cope with Loneliness During the Festive Season

Contributed by: Jaime Yeo

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but even the merriest of holidays has its blues. Holiday loneliness happens even to the best of us, so it is important to understand that you’re not alone. Here are some tips on how to manage loneliness during the most festive time of the year.

Loneliness is a complex personal state that is characterised by a sense of isolation, disconnection, and a lack of meaningful social interaction and companionship. Although much of the research surrounding loneliness focuses on older adults, loneliness can affect individuals of any age. Normalise it: Most of us would have gone through seasons of loneliness in our lives.

Loneliness is different from aloneness; the former is subjective. One could be surrounded by friends and family but still feel lonely. Alternatively, you could be alone and feel completely at ease. What, then, exactly contributes to this complex emotion?

Reasons for holiday loneliness

Loneliness is biologically motivated; we are genetically coded to meet this basic need for connection. However, this complex emotion could peak during the holidays for a few reasons.

  1. Unrealistic expectations

    During the festive season, you may compare your life with those around you and set several unrealistic expectations for your holiday life. Social media can often contribute to these unrealistic expectations. When these expectations are not met, you may feel a myriad of negative emotions which can contribute to loneliness.

  2. Grief or depression

    Loneliness can be compounded by existing feelings of grief or depression, often caused by the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship. The festive mood can be a painful reminder of the ones we lost as their absence can intensify feelings of loneliness and grief.

  3. Missing loved ones

    If your loved ones live far away, the distance can make it difficult to be together during the holiday season. Many often celebrate the joyous festivities with their loved ones, so not being able to do so could result in loneliness.

How to cope with holiday loneliness

Feeling lonely is a natural occurrence, but there are ways to help yourself through it and alleviate the feeling. Here are some strategies you can adopt to mitigate your feelings of loneliness.

  1. Lending a helping hand

    Volunteering is an effective way to lower the risk of loneliness1 as isolation tends to draw people’s attention inwards, while giving back turns it outwards. When your attention is drawn inwards, you tend to internalise and compound whatever negative emotions you have. On the other hand, by volunteering, your negative feelings are allowed to dissipate and transform into positive emotions as you help others.

    Additionally, in a 2013 study2 that investigated the association between support provision and mortality rates, it was found that helping behaviour reduces mortality because it buffers the association between stress and mortality. This means that helping others will in turn help to alleviate your stress levels, leading to better overall health and reduced mortality.

    During the festive season, you can look to give back to those in need and celebrate the festivities by helping others.

  2. Engage in creative activities

    There is growing research3 that links creative expression to reduced loneliness as being creative can act as an outlet for the negative emotions that accompany loneliness. Creative expression can also help individuals to connect with themselves on a deeper level and foster a sense of self-awareness and introspection, both of which are vital in times of loneliness.

    There are various ways to unleash your creativity; you can engage in arts and craft, write a poem, play an instrument, or learn a dance routine. Since Christmas is coming, you can even create Christmas cards, craft a Christmas-themed poem, or write a short Christmas jingle for your loved ones.

    If creativity does not come naturally to you, you can start by spending time around others who engage in creative activities. For instance, you can attend a friend’s concert or performance. This has the added benefit of social interaction, which can definitely mitigate feelings of loneliness.

  3. Practise gratitude

    Practising gratitude is a powerful tool for improving your mental health and overall well-being as it helps you to focus on and appreciate the positive aspects of your life, even amidst difficulties.

    During the festive season, our expectations are often high and it is easy to be disappointed when things do not go exactly as planned. As such, practising gratitude will be vital in directing your attention towards what you have instead of what you do not have. It will help you understand how lucky you are and draw your focus away from all the negativity and disappointment you may have during the festive celebrations.

    You can practise gratitude by noting down all the things you are grateful for, especially during the holidays. Perhaps you would like to use this season of gifting to express your love and appreciation to family or friends. It is important to reflect and be grateful for even the little things in your life, as this will help you to have a more positive outlook on your life.

Ultimately, it is important to understand that you are not alone, as experiencing loneliness during the festive season is a common occurrence. If you have such feelings, do not deny or feel ashamed about it. Instead, be kind to yourself and try to make peace with your loneliness. It is only when we allow ourselves to feel lonely that we can even start to relieve it.

Reach out for support

If these feelings of loneliness persist or remain overwhelming enough to affect your daily functioning, you may speak to a counsellor or a mental health professional to help tide you through this season. Counselling can be a safe place for you to voice your feelings and process your thoughts without fear of judgement.

1 Cho J, Xiang X. The Relationship Between Volunteering and the Occurrence of Loneliness Among Older Adults: A Longitudinal Study with 12 Years of Follow-Up. 2023.
2 Poulin et al. Giving to Others and the Association Between Stress and Mortality. 2013.
3 Pauly T et al. COVID-19, Time to Oneself, and Loneliness: Creativity as a Resource. 2022.
POSTED IN Psychological Health
TAGS managing emotions, stress and cancer
PUBLISHED 01 DECEMBER 2023