10 ways to survive Christmas loneliness
There’s something really sad about Christmas.
You can see it in all these commercials with families gathered around the table, blissfully celebrating the festive days with their loved ones, exchanging perfectly-wrapped presents next to shiny Christmas trees, with everyone smiling and feeling so lucky to have each other.
Do you see it yet?
In this “merry” picture - where are the people who are grieving? Where are the people who can’t spend time with their friends and family because of work or because of geography? Where are the people who spend holidays in hospitals, either sick or taking care of a loved one? Where are the people who recently lost something and now have to start over? Where are the people who can’t afford to buy presents for their family, to host festive dinners, or to dress fancy? Where are the people who suffer from mental illness and are tortured by their fears, loneliness and insecurities?
There’s something really sad about Christmas in the way it’s presented through the media and our environment: it seems that having a “merry” Christmas is taken for granted and that it belongs only to those whose life treats them well in the current phase. For the rest - I mean for those who are struggling - there’s no space in the commercials. There are no “how-to” guides or any signs of thoughtfulness for those who are lost, lonely or stuck.
How to survive when you are struggling over Christmas
Did you notice the phrase “in the current phase”? Do you remember a time in your life when Christmas felt so heavy, sad and lonely? Many have been through that, and know how hard such a reality can be.
We know that it feels excruciatingly painful to think that there is no one around to ask you “How are you doing today?”, to invite you to a party, to listen to these thousand-times-played-but-still-nostalgic Christmas songs, to have a coffee with you. We know that it’s unfair to feel that you have been taking care of your friends and family so far, but now they are having a blast without you or not including you in their plans. You are tired. You are emotional. You are feeling lonely.
Whatever it is that's making you feel lonely this Christmas, keep that in mind: you are not alone. There is an awfully large number of people experiencing the holiday season in another way, and not only the one you see in advertisements and in social media posts.
1. Don't compare
Stop comparing your current situation with others’ lives: perhaps it might be quite hurtful for you and not helpful at all. Maybe it doesn’t make you feel better, so why do it? The fact that you are not in a good place and your emotional state is quite vulnerable doesn’t mean that it’s your fault or that you deserve it. It’s unfair to compare your life with theirs NOW. Other people have been or will be there at some point, and not because they deserve it. But merely because that’s life.
Instead, focus on yourself and what you need now or what you can do to soothe your loneliness, your pain, your sadness. You went through some challenges this year and you deserve some praise for that, and definitely not guilt, shame or self-blame.
2. Avoid social media
If it’s for getting in contact with people you have missed or didn’t have time to talk to so far, then yes, go for it.
But, if it’s about spying and seeing other people having fun while you aren’t, and making yourself feel even more miserable by comparing their life with yours, then don’t! Definitely not a good idea.
Unplug and detox for a few days from the subtle nerve-racking, mentally-exhausting, down-putting impact of social media. After that break, you will see the world with some newly-discovered clarity, optimism and self-kindness.
Sometimes we are very bad at giving advice to ourselves or taking care of our own emotional wounds, but we are so good and well-prepared when it comes to helping others. What about volunteering in some community activities around you: there are homeless people, sick or older people or orphans who would really appreciate some help or some company these days.
And what will you gain? Socialising; helping some less fortunate people around you; meeting people who have been through similar experiences with you; and last but not least, showing some kindness to others may help you see how you can be kind to yourself and eventually treat yourself more nicely. Hopefully.
4. Celebrate on your own
Don’t go into “all or nothing” or “should / must” thinking: “Either I’m spending the day with the people I want in the way it should be spent, or else: Nothing”. If you are staying inside spending the holidays alone, because no one is around, because you had to travel for work, because you are living abroad, or because you couldn’t travel back home, make this day a special one.
Prepare your favourite meal, binge-watch your favourite movie or series and do all the things that make you feel nice. Nothing in there means that your life is miserable or that you “will die alone”. It’s a day which can be as fun and as special as you want it to be. It’s your call.
5. Feel free to change your mind
If you said yes to some plans or activities, but you meant no, or the other way around, don’t hesitate to change it. It’s a day where you don’t need to feel suppressed, so do as your heart tells you. Your real friends will understand your reasons and will trust your good intentions. The people who will get disappointed in you are the ones who will judge you either way. So, feel free to let go of guilt and listen to your heart.
6. Everything is temporary - even pain
See the situation you are in as momentary and gradually fading. When we see things through the lens of permanence, we feel less motivated to change or to question the “status quo” or the “fate”.
Remember the last time you felt sad, miserable, lonely and desperate. Did it last forever, as you originally thought? How did you cope? Which skill or quality of yours was most helpful in order to get you unstuck (your stubbornness, your creativity, your social network, your courage)? It is a phase, and instead of looking at it and feeling sad, think of the day ahead where this pain and distress will be a tad smaller.
7. Accept that it's a part of life
“Happiness is not a reward and pain is not punishment,” Pema Chodron said in one of her meditation lectures. What you are going through right now is life happening. Whether you think you deserved it or not, abort that kind of thinking: our life cannot be put into an “action-reaction-result” algorithm.
Actually, it isn’t your whole life, it’s only a part of your life that will take you to another part of your life, that will take you to another part of life… and so on. Sometimes it helps to see our life as a continuum, consisting of different compartments leading to the next ones, always in a flow; sometimes smooth, sometimes rough.
8. Lower your expectations
Setting the bar too high for Christmas? Trying to organise everything to the last detail? I guess it seems impossible to have fun in so much stress, right? Perfectionism is not about delivering perfect results, but rather feeling some overwhelming stress about yourself, that whatever you do will not be enough; that you are not good enough.
Having a nice, fun and relaxed Christmas has nothing to do with perfection and good organisation. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t feel like singing, cooking, inviting people, hosting parties which will eventually exhaust you and leave you no time for yourself. It’s merely getting in touch with what you really need at this moment. Ask yourself: Which overwhelming and stressful thought do I need to let go of?
9. Be present and allow yourself to feel
If you are grieving, allow grief to be one of the emotions you will feel and let it be part of your healing. Be present and listen to the messages your own feelings are sending you.
Grief is the pain we feel because of the loss of a loved one. But it’s also a reminder of how important (some) people are in our life. It brings back important relationships to a healthy perspective, where we try to enjoy the people we have while they’re still next to us. Allow some space for sadness and nostalgic memories this Christmas. Their message is not harmful, but instead quite helpful. Not suppressing uncomfortable emotions is an act of kindness and acceptance to yourself. Be kind to yourself.
10. Reframe & find your own meaning
I understand that all previous Christmas holidays were much better than this one and the thought of having to spend Christmas all alone is a sad one, but what about changing our perspective? Broaden your options to what Christmas means for you and how it “should” be spent.
Give Christmas holidays your own meaning: maybe in the past years it meant “family time”, but now it’s time to re-think who “family” is for you. Maybe there are more people who could be considered family for you, and not necessarily the ones you have blood relations with. Maybe in the past years, Christmas was equal to “giving”, but this year it’s more about you learning to ask and to take because you need it and there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t restrict yourself in old patterns; re-invent Christmas’ meaning and allow yourself some more options in the new space you made.
Accept that Christmas will be different - and make the most of it
This Christmas will be different for some of us.
Let’s not take health, love, connection, wealth or joy for granted. Help those who are hiding behind a kind smile, those who don’t share their pain, because they don’t want to “ruin” your Christmassy mood. Reach out to others if you are feeling lonely and hopeless.
You are not alone.