The holiday season will always be a lonely time for some people, but this year many more of us are experiencing the sadness of having our celebrations look nothing like we'd hoped. Separated from loved ones thanks to the pandemic, huge numbers of people (myself included) are feeling more lonely than festive as end-of-the-year celebrations approach.
Short of disregarding public health advice -- please don't do that -- is there anything you can do to beat your blues and make the best of what is, admittedly, a far from ideal holiday situation? Yup, says clinical psychologist and TEDx speaker Adia Gooden on the TED Ideas blog recently. She doesn't offer any magic bullets, but she does lay out a handful of solid tips.
1. Be kind to yourself about your feelings.
You're already feeling lousy. Beating yourself up for feeling lousy when you think you should be filled with festive cheer really isn't going to help anything.
Instead, Gooden implores you to feel your feelings and just be nice to yourself about them. "Say the sorts of encouraging things that you'd say to a close friend in this situation -- 'This is temporary'; 'We will get out of this'; 'It's okay to feel sad and disappointed,'" she advises.
2. Blend the old and the new.
Will this holiday season look like ones past? No, but that doesn't mean you have to throw all your traditions out the window. On the other hand, this year is also the perfect opportunity to try something new. Your best bet is striking a thoughtful balance between tradition and innovation.
"If there's a ritual that is really important to you and your family -- perhaps opening gifts or cooking together -- see if you can make this happen over a video call," she suggests. Yes, it will feel weird, but "recreate what you can, where you are."
At the same time, "embrace the chance to make new traditions this year," she adds. "You can also think about doing something you love that's not usually possible during the holidays. Maybe you never get to sleep in, or your family hates the terrible Christmas movies that you love."
3. Reach out on the day.
Even if you're spending a holiday physically alone, make sure you reach out and truly connect virtually with those you love. "Have a real conversation, and be honest," says Gooden. "Take off the mask, and acknowledge that it's hard. If we just hold it in and are silently crying while we're texting and pretending we're okay, that's the epitome of feeling lonely."
Kindness is among the best mood boosters available, so also consider focusing not just on brightening your own day, but on someone else's as well. "Message someone who you think will be alone too," suggests Gooden. "You may not be super close, but put yourself out there and be a little vulnerable. Go out of your comfort zone to make that connection."
4. Beware social media.
Can social media be a great way to connect with distant friends and family? Sure. But can it also torment you with images of everyone else's picture perfect holiday celebrations, leading to deeper misery? Most definitely also yes, so Gooden advises you think long and about exactly how much social media will be good for your state of mind.
She also notes that "British comedian Sarah Millican runs a hashtag called #joinin on Twitter on Christmas Day. It's designed for anyone -- whether alone or just in less than ideal circumstances -- who would like company." If you want the companionship without the misery-inducing envy, consider checking it out.
5. Seek out joy.
The world is exceptionally good at dishing out terrible news this year (and with the media's help any year, really). But if you want to remind yourself of all the good that's going on too, you're going to have to put in an effort. Gooden gives readers permission to limit their intake of negative headlines and seek out more uplifting news.
She also suggests you find yourself some cheerful distractions, such as a new hobby. These activities are "not the same as a big gathering, but plan things that you can enjoy and look forward to so you don't just feel like you're stuck in the house and all you can do is binge-watch TV until you get vaccinated," she says.
That sounds like sensible advice we could all do with hearing. If you'd like to read more from Gooden or check out her TED talk about beating back perfectionism and cultivating unconditional self-worth, here is her complete post.