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8 ways to cope with loneliness during the holidays

Dec 18, 2023 By Dominique Astorino
Young man looking out at the snow

As the calendar brings about the final months of the year and the holiday season approaches, we hope that our days will be merry and bright, but often the reality is a little colder.

Though intended to be a festive time of year, the holiday season can trigger feelings of loneliness, sadness, and pain for many. You could be feeling pangs of nostalgia, navigating strained relationships, or struggling with an emotional or physical separation from family and friends. It can be a hard time, plain and simple.

Despite its challenges, there are ways — even in hardship — to feel better during the holidays. Whether you’ve moved far away, set boundaries within your more difficult relationships, or are feeling isolated for any particular reason, we’ve got your mental health toolkit for this time of year. Here are a few ways to cope with feelings of loneliness during the holiday season:

1. Acknowledge your feelings

It’s okay to not be okay — you don’t have to justify it, or compare yourself or your situation to others. In fact, suppressing your feelings or pretending that you are not lonely may only make you feel worse. Remind yourself that your feelings are valid and allow yourself to experience those emotions, rather than fighting them. While you may want to push these feelings aside to avoid the pain, facing them head on will help you learn ways to cope and begin healing, whereas stifling your emotions may only intensify and prolong your pain. Remember that many people struggle with feelings of loneliness during the holidays and you’re not alone in these emotions. Acknowledgement of your situation, your emotional state, and your needs will allow you to take the next best steps toward feeling better, healing, and getting your needs met.

2. Practice active gratitude

Shifting your focus towards the things you’re thankful for can be a powerful remedy when feeling blue. During tough times, practicing gratitude can help give you a sense of appreciation and optimism, reminding you of the positives in life even when things seem hopeless. This is particularly true when it comes to honoring the connections you have in your life, big and small. “Send thank-you letters or messages to three or four people throughout your life who have helped you — other than family members,” says One Medical’s Hannah Kaye, MSW, LCSW. “This can include teachers, professors, past supervisors or coworkers at a job.” Expressing your thanks can strengthen these relationships, as well as boost your own mood and overall life satisfaction.

3. Reach out to your chosen family

If you’re coping with physical or emotional distance from relative this holiday season, lean on those outside your family. “Consider reaching out to coworkers, friends, or people with a shared interest,” says Kaye. You don’t need to write a sonnet or long holiday card, or have an hour long video call ; keep it simple if that’s what you feel like right now. “You can even just send a text or holiday meme! It doesn't need to be a long conversation, but try to have a few positive interactions.” This proactive socialization can help nourish that interpersonal need.

4. Get outdoors

We know it’s probably cold out wherever you are, but even a little time with fresh air in the great outdoors (even the frigid great outdoors) can do a world of good for your wellbeing Spending time in nature has been linked to a number of physical and mental health benefits, from improving mood to reduced risk of disease. One 2019 study, for instance, saw “significantly better mental health outcomes” for individuals who had access to green spaces. It appears the universal conclusion seems to be that time in nature equates to more positive emotion, and less depression.“Evidence has found that contact with nature can reduce feelings of loneliness in adults,” says Kaye. “I recommend going outside, digitally unplugging, breathing in that hopefully clean natural air, and enjoying.”

5. Take a social media break

Speaking of some unplugged time in nature, this could be a great time to detox from social media - at least for a little while. While these apps can be a great connective tool, they also create endless opportunities for comparison . “Many people only show their highlight reels on their social media profiles — not their bloopers,” says Kaye. “Chances are, you're not the only person feeling lonely this holiday season. People who use social media to keep up with others may feel lonelier than people who use it for other reasons.” Pay close attention to how your social media usage makes you feel. Do you feel more isolated or connected to others when you log on? If it’s the former, consider taking a break for the holidays. You might be surprised by how good you feel going offline.

6. Give back

“The holidays are a great time to volunteer or give back,” says Kaye. “Thinking about the world outside of ourselves can reduce feelings of loneliness, and volunteering in particular has been associated with lower loneliness in scientific research.” This human connection with others is what the holiday season is all about — and it can really be brought to the forefront through charity and humanitarian acts of service. Learn more about the health benefits of giving here.

7. Enjoy some laughs

Another antidote to the holiday blues and feelings of isolation might just be a slapstick comedy or your favorite hilarious podcast. “I firmly believe medicine is the best medicine, but laughter might be a close second,” says Kaye. “Some evidence indicates that laughter may reduce feelings of loneliness, so this is a great time to break out the comedy standup specials or Youtube compilation videos, among other humorous things, to bring a smile or a laugh to your face.”

8. Talk to your primary care provider

Coping with feelings of loneliness can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that you’re note alone. If you’re still struggling with your mental health, reach out to your primary care provider. They can help you learn to manage your emotional well-being, as well as connect you to resources such as support groups, therapists, counselors, or other behavioral health specialists.They will be able to teach you tools to manage stress, communicate with your family, and process your emotions.

Have more questions about your mental health? Our primary care team is here to help. At One Medical, we aim to provide exceptional care designed around you and your unique health goals. Sign up today to book a same or next day appointment — in person or over video — through our app.

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Dominique Astorino

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. 1Life Healthcare, Inc. and the One Medical entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.