Navigating Holiday Isolation with Hope and Connection

Generally, the holiday season is a joyful, family-filled time. But for some, all the tinsel and cheer is just too much. And don’t get us started on being around family you don’t particularly care for.

We’re covering all aspects of holiday isolation and discussing why tackling those feelings head-on is essential. Plus, we’ll give you some tips for how to help an isolated loved one this season. While those feelings are valid, no one should spend the holidays alone.

Understanding Holiday Isolation

Although it’s painted as the most wonderful time of the year, you feel the opposite. And while the world is wrapped up in tinsel and twinkling lights, you feel all alone.

Some people feel extra holiday pressure, and social media doesn’t help. When you click on your feed and see happy faces, it feels like confirmation that you don’t have the life you want. These feelings alone might send you into a negative thought loop that can be hard to escape.

The end of the year can be brutal, especially if the past year has been challenging, too. When you see everyone smiling and decorating for the holidays, you feel something is wrong with you. Your feelings are valid. It’s OK not to be happy when everyone else is.

Some people also feel extra distant from friends and family this time of year. Loved ones are far away, and travel planning can be a literal nightmare—not to mention the costs of everything.

Other times, it feels like you’re just out of sync with everyone’s merry vibes. Maybe you’re just not into the holidays, or it’s that you’re dealing with some extra mental health challenges right now.

Whatever your reason is for isolating this time of year, there are ways to cope.

If You Isolate during the Holidays

First of all, give yourself a break. It’s OK if you don’t feel like the life of the party this time of year. But taking care of yourself is a great way to deal when everything feels too much.

Recognize how you’re feeling

Self-awareness is a big part of taking proper care of our mental health, but it can be tricky if you’re not used to it. Acknowledge your feelings as valid, and remember you are not alone.

Recognize what triggers your low mood. Bad family memories, intense feelings of grief, or trauma are some common reasons people dislike the holiday season.

Learning more about what causes you to go down a negative thought pattern can prepare you for the next time those situations or thoughts come up. Additionally, this might help you navigate the season.

Focus on self-care

Caring for ourselves is critical to maintaining a healthy mindset and overall well-being. Spend time developing self-care habits like getting enough rest, eating well, and moving your body daily.

When you’re feeling down, the last thing you want to do is hit the gym. So go for a walk instead. Put on your favorite podcast or ask a friend if they want to join.

Set realistic expectations

It’s easy to imagine what this season should look like. But when our reality doesn’t match those expectations, it can tank our mood. The trick is to step back and see things as they are, not how we wish they’d be.

Instead of forcing the festive feelings, try to take each day as it comes. Don’t stress about making everything picture-perfect and flawless.

If you’re feeling swamped by all the activities and social events, it’s fine to say “no.” Give yourself a break. Remember, you can’t do it all!

The holidays might not be as planned, and that’s OK. This time isn’t about living up to some perfect image—it’s about enjoying the moments as they come and making new memories to look back on.

Reach out

Contacting someone in your support network is one of the best ways to combat seasonal isolation. Remember, you’re never alone.

When you’re deep in those negative feelings, making an effort to socialize can feel way too much. But small steps like writing a holiday card or talking to your neighbors in passing are simple ways to socialize without commitment.

Hanging out with friends or family is a good distraction from those lonely feelings. Call or video chat with someone, or attend a holiday event in your area. These personal connections can help strengthen bonds and create new ones you didn’t know you needed.

Avoid drugs and alcohol

It’s easy to fall into peer pressure, especially this time of year. Stay away from substances like drugs or alcohol that might worsen your symptoms. And don’t go to parties where alcohol is the center of the fun.

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel tempted, call a friend or leave the event. It’s OK to make up an excuse to head home early. Remember, your well-being is the most important thing.

If you know someone struggling, we also have great ideas to help them feel included in the season.

Helping Your Isolated Friends and Family

Consider yourself a holiday cheerleader—just don’t take that role too seriously. The last thing someone feeling down needs is over-the-top positivity. And sometimes, that can have the opposite effect on people.

Helping an isolated person during the holidays can be as simple as going for coffee or catching up with a text or phone call. Letting them know you’re there for them is the best way to show your support.

Be supportive

Don’t assume what kind and how much support people need. Meet them where they’re at, and be open to adjusting your level of support to their needs. Remember, it’s not about you right now. It’s about supporting them how they need it.

Include them in your plans. Invite them to events and ask them to be your plus-one at parties. Let them know you’d love for them to come, but it’s okay if they’re not feeling up for it.

Listening is key. Ask how they’re doing and really listen. Don’t offer advice if they don’t want it. Some people just need someone to hear them out.

Be patient

Getting someone out of their comforting isolation bubble can take a bit of nudging, but don’t give up the first time they turn you down. Keep the invite open and tell them that even if they’re not up for it right now, there’s always next time. Little by little, they may warm up to the idea.

Give gentle encouragement

After a while, people get used to their feelings. It’s comfortable for them to stay in negative thought patterns, and it might feel weird to break them, making it hard to support someone.

Encourage your isolated friends to participate in holiday activities or suggest doing an activity they enjoy.

Start small. Don’t invite them to a holiday event with hundreds of people if they feel lonely. Suggest low-key activities that are less overwhelming.

Sometimes, offering practical help to someone is enough. See if they need help decorating, holiday shopping, or gift wrapping. Just being there shows that you’re in it together.

Be an inclusive host

Change it up for once. Plan unique get-togethers like a hot chocolate bar or cookie decorating party. That way, everyone can have fun no matter how “festive” they feel.

Food is a big part of holiday celebrations. If you’re hosting, ask each person to bring a dish that’s special to them or represents their background. This will give your dinner table some variety; each dish presents a unique opportunity to learn about one another.

Asking for music suggestions before the party is a great way to have a diverse playlist for the big event. Mix some holiday classics with requested tunes from your guests.

Supporting a sober friend

Holiday parties typically have alcohol included. And that’s what makes this time of year so challenging for people who don’t drink. If the person you’re supporting is sober, invite them to alcohol-free activities, and be sure to ask them if they’re comfortable going to events that may have alcohol around.

When to Seek Professional Help

Suppose you are doing everything to help yourself, but you just can’t seem to shake those gloomy feelings. You might be dealing with something bigger than some casual winter blues, especially if those feelings last longer than two weeks or are still present after the holiday season.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects about 5 percent of the US population each year. Its symptoms are similar to depression, and it can significantly interfere with your life.

There are treatments for SAD that include light therapy, counseling, or medication. If you think you have SAD, contact your doctor today. There’s no shame in reaching out for help.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. Help is available 24 hours a day in English and Spanish.

If you’re feeling extra lonely this season, remember that your feelings are valid and you’re not alone. Consider talking to a professional about how you feel. There’s no shame in asking for help; it could help you start a great new year.


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