Help for Overcoming Holiday Loneliness
For the text version of this infographic on dealing with holiday loneliness, read on.
If You’re Lonely, You’re in Good Company
The holidays are billed as a special time to reconnect with family, friends, and community. And yet, during this season many people are lonelier than ever:
17% of adults report feeling lonely on a daily basis, according to a Gallup poll.
Around the winter holidays, that estimate may jump as high as 31%, according to an AARP survey.
People may feel lonelier because:
They sense that they’re being compared to others and don’t fit into social norms.
They are alone, while the holidays are represented as a time for connection and celebration.
They are surrounded by people but struggle to connect with them.
Not Everyone Is Thrilled to Gather with Family During the Holidays
In a USA Today survey of 2,000 Americans,
45% report they lied about being sick to get out of spending time with relatives, and
40% say they intentionally booked a trip during the holidays to get out of family time.
Not All Time Spent Alone During the Holidays Is Lonely
In a survey of 2,000 U.S. adults traveling to visit family during the holidays,
75% say they will hit a point where they will need some alone time, and
1 in 4 admit they have hidden in a relative’s house to get a moment by themselves.
3 hours and 54 minutes: The average time a respondent said they spent with family before they needed a break
4 Strategies for Overcoming Loneliness During the Holidays
If you’re spending unwanted time alone during the season, these tips from Jeremy Nobel, M.D., M.P.H., author of Project UnLonely and founder of the Foundation for Art & Healing, can help you feel less lonely and connect to what’s meaningful for you during the holidays.
1. Create Meaning
Reframe the essence of the holidays as a time to connect with yourself and understand what you hope to experience.
- Invite yourself to a conversation. Journal, draw, or doodle to help you reflect on what the holidays mean to you personally.
- Represent that meaning with something tangible. Make an artifact—a playlist, collage, poem, letter—that you can reference to remind you of your authentic feelings about the holidays.
- Create your own tradition. Go for a holiday walk someplace you find inspiring, put on music you love and savor it mindfully, or do anything else that feels good and meaningful. Write the tradition down so you can return to it the next holiday.
- Share with your network. Sharing your artifact or your tradition can help foster connection with others.
2. Focus on Gratitude and Service to Others
Gratitude and volunteering can be a salve for loneliness, Nobel says: “[They] remind you that you’re part of a bigger human network that is larger than yourself and your own concerns. Your own ego starts to feel smaller, and with that, your sense of connection to the bigger story increases.”
- Ask yourself: What do I have to be thankful for, and who do I have to thank?
- Go beyond just having the feeling. Like your holiday artifact, make something like a playlist or note to help articulate that gratitude.
- Share your gratitude with other people as a positive way to connect.
- Do something generous, compassionate, and empathetic to help others.
3. Ask for Help If You Need It
Serious loneliness can have serious mental health consequences. It’s important to get help from a licensed professional if and as you need it. “If you’re feeling like you’re spiraling out of control in loneliness—with insomnia, anxiety, racing thoughts, feelings of self-harm—seek help,” Nobel says.
4. Remember That Loneliness Is Not Your Fault
“If you’re feeling lonely for the holidays, it’s not your fault. Declare that,” Nobel says. Rather, we’re shaped by our social circumstances and the media. Don’t allow the fact that you feel lonely to also make you feel bad about yourself.
“No one has to be lonely for the holidays,” Nobel says. “But in order to be unlonely for the holidays, you have to be willing to ask yourself some personal questions about the holidays’ meaning and purpose, and how you relate to that.”
AARP Foundation. (2017) Social Connection and the Holidays.
McGinley, K. & Lobb, J. (2023) Survey: Nearly 85% of Americans avoid family over the holidays. USA Today.
Motel 6-OnePoll Surviving the Holidays survey (2019).
Whitters, D. (2023) Loneliness in U.S. Subsides from Pandemic High. Gallup.
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