The holidays will be different this year, and this is a fact I am still processing. The holidays are my favorite time of year, and I know COVID-19 is real. But it is still strange to have to choose isolation during such a special time of year because of a global pandemic. I have personally been feeling the emotional effects of COVID-19 isolation since I am nearly 3,000 miles away from my hometown and family. It wasn’t until September that I started to feel a significant emotional shift. Since I have opted not to go home for Thanksgiving this year (this will be my first Thanksgiving away from home) due to taking COVID-19 safety precautions, I am truthfully feeling a double whammy of sadness. However, I know staying put is the safest choice for my family and me. I thought breaking the news to my parents would be difficult, but they beat me to it—sharing their concern about risking exposure to fly home.
It’s safe to assume that I am not the only person who will be spending the holidays alone this year. With that in mind, I reached out to Dr. Gail Saltz, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the Personology podcast; and Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi, a licensed therapist and the medical director of behavioral health at Doctor On Demand, to seek out their guidance on how to cope with loneliness this holiday season.
Know that it’s normal to feel more lonely during the holidays
Feeling lonely or melancholy during this time of the year isn’t abnormal. So if you find yourself feeling less enthusiastic as the holidays grow near, Dr. Benders-Hadi said these feelings aren’t uncommon. “Many people feel more lonely during the holidays since this time of year may bring back memories of time spent with family members they have lost, or feelings of sadness around the status of relationships they have with family or friends,” she told The Everygirl. “There is so much pressure to get into the holiday spirit that if you are not feeling joyous, this time of year can be very difficult.” Since we aren’t alone in having these feelings during the holidays, how do we navigate them? Our experts have a few tips.
Both experts agree that virtual connections can be beneficial. “Virtual connections can absolutely create a positive sense of community,” Benders-Hadi said. “Similar to how many individuals find it easier to connect to healthcare professionals from the comfort of their own home, the same rings true for developing new friendships and connections. When connecting virtually, the reach of your community is also so much more widespread across the nation and even the world, so you have the ability to learn and experience things you may never have had the opportunity to otherwise.”
While virtual connections offer an opportunity to open up your world, Saltz said, don’t be afraid to connect one on one. “You need to pump up the emotional content of the conversation when it’s virtual,” she explained. “Be kinder, express more positive feelings, and listen to them more.”
Fill your time with a new hobby, but don’t isolate
When we went into quarantine, I was the new hobby queen until I got fatigued. After talking with my therapist, I soon realized that those activities made me feel busy, but still left me feeling alone. If you’re going to pick up a new hobby, bring those you love in on it. “It’s actually more helpful to reach out to others and try to have more intimate, valuable conversations with them,” Saltz said. “That will make you feel better than a solo activity.”
If you’re unable to go home for the holidays, try booking an online cooking experience with Airbnb (I love them) or schedule a time with a group of your family members to learn a sacred holiday recipe like sweet potato pie or mac and cheese. This way, you’re still a part of your family traditions, but now in a new way.
Be supportive of others
Everyone will be dealing with something different this holiday season, including loss. If you don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving, our mental health experts have sound advice. “If you know someone coping with the loss of a loved one this holiday season, reach out to let them know you care,” Benders-Hadi advised. “It can be easy to get caught up in negative thinking and grief around this time of the year, so showing that person you are thinking of them can go a long way. A simple phone call or a small gesture are great ways to display kindness to someone struggling.” Saltz added that normalizing a loved one’s grief is also important. “[Express] that you understand it is sad, rather than saying things like, ‘Don’t be sad.’ Reminisce with them of happy times with that lost one, be supportive, and be present.”
Plan moments to look forward to
COVID-19 has changed how we live and plan to spend time with our family and friends, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun reminiscing about old times while being hopeful about the future. “If you can’t be with those you love this holiday season, get together on a video call and share a laugh or some memories from afar. You can even start making plans for what you will do when you can see each other again. Having something to look forward to can help ease stress in these uncertain times, even if you have to do so with flexible travel dates,” said Benders-Hadi.
I hate to say this is the “new normal” because, let’s face it, none of what we’re experiencing right now is normal. But, I hope one (or all) of these expert tips helps remind you, you aren’t alone.