The holidays are usually a time to gather family, revisit hometown pleasures, and celebrate friendsgiving. But this year, coronavirus is the guest we didn’t plan for and definitely don’t want to invite into our homes. There are a myriad of reasons why large family gatherings shouldn’t happen this year and why traveling to your hometown isn’t a good idea. It’s time to face facts: You may be spending the holidays alone.
After a long summer of social distancing, it can be hard to face even more isolation during the holidays. In an article published by Cedars Sinai, clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Wetter notes: “Feelings of isolation and loneliness also tend to be heightened during the holidays, especially for those who have recently lost a loved one or those who don’t have a strong network of friends and family.” Fortunately, there’s ways of mitigating that sense of loneliness over the holiday season, even when you’re alone.
Get up and get moving
The National Institute on Aging (NIH) states the best way to “combat loneliness and isolation” is exercise. Of course, going to a local gym typically isn’t safe this holiday season, but lean into your favorite workout apps or try a new online workout to get yourself motivated. Getting outdoors for a walk or hike can be especially useful for combining exercise with mindfulness.
Another way to exercise (and have fun) is attending a digital dance party. At the start of the pandemic, virtual clubs became very popular, starting with DJs like D-Nice on Instagram live. Now there are a number of ways to dance the night away right from your home. Esquire put together a list of digital nightclubs and DJs to get you in the groove.
House sit for a friend
If you’re able, housesit for a friend’s empty place. They’re not using it, and maybe they have a better coffee maker or comfier couch than you. If they agree, clean and sanitize their place when you arrive and after leaving—the change of scenery is a win for you, and the clean house is a win for them. When it comes to travel, Elaine Rodino, Ph.D says it “gets you out of the traditional holiday mindset” in an article for PsychCentral. Who says you have to travel far?
If you have friends or family but are just not able to see them in person, find creative ways to spend time online. This one takes some organization, but plan a digital secret Santa. You can use online apps to assign names, and use different gift registries like Giftster for your secret Santa to choose gifts. Plenty of sites offer gift wrapping, and items can be shipped directly to your assigned person. Then, schedule a time where you can all open the gifts online together. Not only do you get to interact with friends, but the process is fun and can make you feel good by doing good for others.
At the Aspen Ideas Festival session on “The Epidemic Of Loneliness” Julianne Holt-lunstad, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brigham Young University said, “…to connect to others is a biological need and it ties back to the idea of being part of a group is adaptive to survival.” We’re all in survival mode right now. Although that mode requires we be with fewer than 10 people at a time this year, organizing a gift exchange can be a great way to feel connected with friends and family.
If organizing a gift exchange is too much to take on, just give your friend a quick call or scheduling a joint cooking or baking session together.
Offer to pet sit for friends who are traveling
Speaking of friends, what better friend is there than a fuzzy pup? Along with exercise, the NIH notes, “animals can be a source of comfort and may also lower stress and blood pressure.” I can attest to this, as my late chihuahua Tina helped me through many a struggle. No sooner did the pandemic hit, I began having daydreams of walking two new Cavapoos (that’s a mix of a Cavalier King Charles and a Poodle, of course).
If you don’t have a pet or didn’t mange to adopt one during the height of the pandemic pet craze, consider offering to petsit for a friend who might be headed out of town for the holidays. Another win-win: You get the companionship, they get the help they need. Or, if you still dream of owning your own puppy or kitty, see if fostering is right for you.
Schedule out your alone time
Make a schedule like you would any other holiday where you might juggle family and friends, only this time it’s entirely for you. Do movie night where you and Lucky (your new puppy) have popcorn and binge holiday specials. Or go to a drive-in movie theater. Bake holiday cookies, or finally try making that sweet potato pie you always wanted. Treat yo self.
Plan for questions about how you spent the holidays
When the season comes to an end and those who saw family ask what you did, don’t try to make it sound more than it was. It’s okay to say “nothing.” You don’t need to match their energy. Show them pictures of the knitting you did, or share the workout challenge you completed. Most people are stressed out celebrating with family and might even be jealous of your low key holiday. Self care is contagious, and they may love the idea of taking time for themselves around the holidays, too.
The U.S. Census reported that in 2018 “there are 35.7 million single-person households, composing 28 percent of all households.” If you find yourself feeling a certain way towards talking about it, there’s a whole community out there for you. The Loneliness Project is an online platform where you can read about individuals’ experiences and share your own. You can even submit anonymously if you want. Although you may spend the holidays alone, you are most definitely not alone.