3 Tips for Navigating the Holidays Alone

I’ve spent many holidays alone. I was the only Jewish kid in my class and never felt like I was part of the dominate culture. My family wasn’t much for holidays either, so I often went to a friend’s house, which only illuminated how different I felt. I know what it’s like to feel left out, other, and lonely. I know what it’s like to want to break down in tears at a grocery checkout line when the cashier asks “are you having a good holiday,” or something else as equally unintentionally offensive. Or maybe you do celebrate and spend the holidays with family or loved ones but somehow it never feels the way you imagine it’s supposed to feel. The thing is, the holidays can be so disappointing because our expectations don’t align with reality.

Our culture makes the assumptions that a) everyone celebrates the same holidays or holidays at all, b) that we have some kind of collective obligation to celebrate or acknowledge these holidays, c) that we have family/friends to spend these holidays with, and d) that we’re not allowed to be anything less than happy about it all! That is just too much pressure! It’s also ignorant.

One year, I started a fight with the managers of the group therapy practice I was working for because they insisted on playing Christmas music in the waiting room. They refused to see any issue with it. Let me translate that. A group of MENTAL HEALTH professionals did not understand my point about inclusivity and continued their offensive practices.

If you’re nervous about facing this holiday alone, ironically you’re in good company. There are so many more of you than you probably realize. Anticipating loneliness is a common theme I help my clients with this time of year. Here are my best tips for setting yourself up for success to get through the season and/or maybe even enjoy it.

Mindfulness. Remember that this too shall pass. The day, the week, the season — it will be over eventually and it only has meaning if you give it meaning. Otherwise, it’s just a day.

Adjust your expectations. If you keep hoping that things will be different and they never are, maybe it’s time to accept reality and grieve your losses. On the flip side, you could give yourself the holiday you always wanted. You could decorate to heart’s desire (if that’s your thing), treat yourself to the gifts you’d like and wrap them up, and even make yourself a special meal.

Make a game plan. Analyze what you know to be true for you. Are you someone who might need to be busy or distracted that day, or are you someone who would prefer to cozy up alone? For me, there were some years that I volunteered or worked a shift I wouldn’t normally, which gave me a sense of purpose, and helped the day go by. There were other years I preferred a change of scenery and planned a trip for myself. Flying on Christmas Day is actually lovely because flights are cheaper and airports are quiet. The usual hectic experience of travel is uniquely enjoyable on Christmas Day. If you’re going to be staying home alone, check in with your friends. You might be surprised who else is alone or doesn’t have any obligations. Get all your favorite foods, books, movies, etc and enjoy the rest as if it’s a special day for you. Movie theaters are open on Christmas and there is usually a big release that day. It’s a great way to get out for a bit and be alone in a group!

Whatever it is you determine to be right for you, figure it out ahead of time so that you can minimize your anxiety around it. I hope you plan thoughtfully, set yourself up for success, and get to enjoy something about the season.