We’re fed images of perfect holiday gatherings, surrounded by friends and family. Except it’s those very images that can make us feel worse about spending Christmas alone. Once we let go of the commercialized idea about how to spend the holidays, we can find relief in our newfound freedom from unrealistic expectations.
It’s the pressure that we should feel happy and surrounded by loved ones on Christmas that can make us feel worse.
Letting go of the idea of having to have a certain type of Christmas can offer you the freedom to relax, do as you please, and maybe feel relief.
Open yourself up to noticing some of the benefits of spending the holidays alone. For example, catching up on sleep and resting or pushing yourself to try something new.
Accepting that you don’t have to be happy is, ironically, the first step toward enjoying the holiday season more.
Prioritizing your well-being during the Christmas
You don’t have to feel happy on Christmas. Despite what the jolly commercials say, there’s no need to push yourself to feel a certain way, ever. Instead, that very pressure is what makes most of us feel worse.
So, before pushing yourself to 'feel happy' on Christmas, think about if you even really need to.
After all, who says you can’t just hibernate? Having alone time can be incredibly healthy. It lets you rest and relax, or it can push you to take action and potentially avoid family drama.
The reality of holiday emotions and expectations
For some of us, there’s no reason to feel happy on Christmas. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Movies and commercials might portray happy families in matching jammies, but that’s far from the reality that many people experience. Lots of us spend holidays alone or with acquaintances instead of those we feel truly close and connected to — and that’s perfectly okay.
If we could all let go of the idea of having a 'perfect' TV-image version of the holidays, we’d likely all feel a great sense of relief. The societal expectations to 'feel happy' or spend time with family is what can trigger loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
Plus, even those who do get together with families and loved ones don’t necessarily enjoy themselves. You can feel lonely even when you’re surrounded by people.
After all, we all know that family gatherings can bring on the drama and spark frustration, anger, sadness, and even loneliness. It’s not that easy to find a fully-functioning, healthy, happy family — even if TV makes you think otherwise.
Spending Christmas alone: 4 tips on how not to feel lonely
First off, if you do feel lonely, you are, ironically, not alone. The social pressures of the season make many of us feel lonelier than ever. So, if you know the season’s festivities get to you, here’s how to handle the challenges of loneliness:
1. Take the pressure off yourself to have a 'happy' Christmas
Having a family or partner to spend time with over the holidays does not guarantee that you won’t feel lonely. In fact, plenty of people who have close contact with family members or romantic relationships still feel lonely.
Spending time with others is no guarantee to feel better, especially during the pressure-filled holiday season.
So, to start, recognize that being alone does not mean you are lonely. You can choose to spend the season alone and take advantage of its potential benefits.
2. Do something nice for yourself
Whenever we’re having a difficult time, it can be helpful to imagine ourselves as a child. What does your vulnerable center need? It might be rest and trashy TV, reading some captivating books, a massage or health retreat, or a short trip. Give yourself your own little gift, recognizing that you deserve to be treated with care, especially during tough times.
3. Recognize that it’s okay to feel lonely
Even with the knowledge that it's the pressure of the season to not be alone that makes us feel lonelier, it doesn’t mean we can turn our feelings off. We’re not robots, and switching from one emotional place to the next isn’t always easy.
So, if there’s nothing in particular to do and it’s just the uncomfortable emotion that you have to deal with — that’s okay. Let yourself be lonely. We all do from time to time, and it’s part of being human.
Plus, negative emotions can be healthy. They can push us to take some much-needed rest or to take action and change something that isn’t working for us.
You can also try getting some personalized and expert advice from a mental health professional on coping with health challenges and moving forward, including chronic loneliness.
4. Reach out to others
If you aren’t in the mood to let yourself feel lonely, reach out to a community. It doesn’t have to be a day with family or dinner with friends — it can just be someone in need.
Research shows that volunteer work can decrease feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. It might help us get out of our own heads and focus on something that feels worthwhile. Think of something that doesn’t sound too intimidating for you to start, like an animal shelter, hospital volunteer program, retirement home, or neighborhood cleanup.
You can also give hobby groups a try, like signing up for a hiking event, art or dance class, or photography outing. Whatever sparks your interest, give it a go — what have you got to lose?
Having a friend who is alone on Christmas: What to do
If you know someone is going to be alone for Christmas here are a few things you can do:
- Invite them to join you on your plans or make new ones together.
- Suggest a little trip for a change of scenery.
- Offer something that’s proven to boost moods, like spending time in nature.
- Let them know you’re available for them and stay connected by checking in with kind and comforting words.
In the end, they might want to spend the holiday season alone, and you can respect that.
Remember, happiness isn’t something we should force or even expect to feel. Especially on Christmas, when commercialism makes it seem like everyone else is having a happy time full of holiday cheer, which is definitely not the case.
Pressuring ourselves or others to feel better is part of the problem. Take some weight off your shoulders and try to accept that it’s okay to not be okay and that these feelings are temporary.
Negative emotions exist for a reason, and if we can learn to sit with them and let them guide us toward small improvements, we’ll be able to handle the ebbs and flows of life all the better.
- Nature. Perceiving societal pressure to be happy is linked to poor well-being, especially in happy nations.
- Urban Studies. By yourself, yet not alone: Making space for loneliness.
- Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Loneliness Matters: A Theoretical and Empirical Review of Consequences and Mechanisms.
- Journal of Youth Studies. Being alone or becoming lonely? The complexity of portraying ‘unaccompanied children’ as being alone in Sweden.
- Frontiers in Psychology. An Exploratory Feasibility Study of Incorporating Volunteering Into Treatment for Adolescent Depression and Anxiety.
- Journal of Gerontological Social Work. The Relationship Between Volunteering and the Occurrence of Loneliness Among Older Adults: A Longitudinal Study with 12 Years of Follow-Up.