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Alone for the holidays

Being alone for the holidays can be difficult. But you can take steps to have a happy holiday season, even if you're on your own.

Unless you answer to the name Scrooge, you probably think of the holidays as a time for surrounding yourself with family and friends.

But what if—because of a move, a divorce or some other circumstance—you were separated from your loved ones? What if you faced the holidays alone?

At best, you may feel at loose ends; at worst, you may feel "impossibly lonely" and even distraught, says psychologist Larry Kubiak, PhD, a member of the American Psychological Association.

"You can be on your own for the rest of the year and still manage," Dr. Kubiak says. "But the holidays almost mandate togetherness. If you are apart or estranged from your loved ones, your sense of isolation can become very intense."

Your challenge, Dr. Kubiak says, is to try to weather these feelings. And while that's easier said than done, there are concrete steps you can take to feel less alone. Among them, according to Dr. Kubiak:

  • Challenge negative thoughts. Human nature being what it is, it's all too easy to start with this thought, "I'm alone and isolated this holiday season," and drift to this one, "All of my holidays will be like this." Should a thought like this second one surface, tell yourself, "Next year will be different. I have the power to change my circumstances."
  • Reach out. Host a get-together for your co-workers. Knock on the door of a neighbor and suggest a holiday outing. Contact local clubs, religious groups or community centers; they may be sponsoring activities that appeal to you. Moreover, the connections you make will enrich you beyond the holidays.
  • Volunteer. Lend a hand at a homeless shelter, hospital or nursing home. Shop for special presents for a family in need. By helping others, you will also help yourself. "Volunteering makes most people count their blessings," Dr. Kubiak says.
  • Make your holiday special even if you celebrate by yourself. Sit down to a festive meal—or treat yourself to a meal out. Go to a movie or rent one. Buy yourself a present and use it. Use the day to do exclusively what you enjoy.
  • Allow yourself to mourn, if you're alone because of the death of a loved one. Grief needs an outlet, no matter what the season. Consider also that it might comfort you to honor your loved one with a special gesture—for instance, by lighting a candle in his or her memory.
  • Be wary of false comforts. Turning to alcohol or other drugs won't cure your loneliness. Chances are, doing so will add to your problems.
  • Finally, if your loneliness becomes so intense that you're having trouble eating, sleeping, concentrating or enjoying activities that once gave you pleasure, talk to your doctor. These are possible warning signs of depression, which can—and should—be treated.

Reviewed 6/16/2020

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