How to Be Alone, but Not Lonely, Over the Holidays

Updated on November 13, 2017
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Holley Hyler is a freelance writer and has been published in Adelaide, Buck Off Magazine, Rebelle Society, and The Urban Howl.

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Eat, Drink, and Be Grumpy?

We all know that Thanksgiving and Christmas are not always like the movies that depict them as magical days full of family, warmth, and love. I know people that dread the holidays, and they seem to be more common than people who love them. There are certain expectations, routines, and traditions that most people adhere to on these special days, so it can be tough if you are wanting to go against the grain a bit and do your own thing. Whether it's because you're single, far away from family, or can't stand being around Aunt Marge for one more second, I am going to give you some tips to help you make the most of this time, however you choose to spend it.

Listen to Your Own Opinion

One of the traps that I tend to fall into every year, when I express that I am spending a holiday by myself, is people react to that (usually in a negative way), and I allow their reaction to sway my own feelings about my choice. People mean well, but they tend to make it a big deal if you say you are spending the holiday alone or not traveling to see family/having family travel to see you.

Maybe you have the means to travel, but find the airfare exorbitant or you'd prefer to visit family at a less hectic time of year. Maybe you worked hard the entire year and just want some time off to yourself. If you're cut off from your family, it can be even worse, and maybe you feel like you have to cover up your situation and play along so that no one will give you their sympathy (which somehow makes you feel worse).

Whatever the case may be, you have to validate your own reasoning and remember how you feel.

You have to decide for yourself whether you want to tell others or not. If you don't want sympathy or invites to places you wouldn't ordinarily choose to go, it may be best not to tell others of your plans. If you are spending the day alone, no matter what your reason is, it is valid, and you deserve to spend the time in a way that suits you.

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Deck the Halls, Even if You're Not Jolly

I love to decorate for Christmas, but I used to feel like it was pointless because I didn't have anyone else living with me to enjoy it. A lot of people feel this way, and it's understandable. But if you're among them, you have to realize that your enjoyment is important whether or not someone else is there to participate in it with you. Last year, I put up my own tree for the first time. It was satisfying to do the entire thing by myself and have all the say over the colors, ornaments, and lights. I did not have to worry about anyone's preference but my own!

If you are alone and you are physically able to put up decorations, and you enjoy them, there is no reason to rob yourself of this joy any longer. It's amazing what a difference a nice set of lights or even some flowers can make in a room. If you aren't feeling cheerful, playing with the look of your living space is a great way to start changing your vibe. It does not even have to be about the holiday if you don't want it to be. My niece used to have a set of string lights over her bed all year, and she called them her happy lights. It's sometimes the smallest things that can make the most difference - so if you don't want to go all out and put up a tree, think of the subtle things you can do to make your home feel warmer and more inviting to you. Deck the halls, even if you're not feeling jolly, because sometimes the end result helps you feel that way.

Reflect on the Meaning

Another way to keep your mind off feeling lonesome or as though you're not like everyone else is to reflect on the original meaning of the holiday, whatever that is for you. Think about what it means to you personally, even if it does not match what your family and religious upbringing instilled in you. It's easy to get caught up in all the advertisements and media messages about the holidays and forget the bigger picture. Often, feelings of inadequacy can come up when we are thinking about not being able to afford that gift or do this and that. If you aren't close with family, you may compare yourself with others who seem to have good family situations and wonder, "Why don't I have that?" We tend to spend a lot of the time thinking about the smaller details, things we don't have or what doesn't feel right.

Check in with yourself. Take time to engage in things that feel meaningful to you, and don't judge what feels meaningful to you. If you feel your thoughts going off track, don't judge that either. This is about learning to be okay with how you feel and honor your preferences, even when it seems like the rest of the world doesn't do that. We all know someone who complains every year because they feel obligated to spend time around people they don't resonate with or like. You don't have to be this person - you have the ability to make a choice. So what will you choose?

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Make a List

This one may be difficult for some people, because it can feel a bit mechanical, but my last piece of advice is to make a list of things you can do if you start feeling sad. If you'd rather feel the sadness and let it play out, that's fine too, but perhaps you will want to try and channel your energy into things that feel good. If you anticipate having a lot of down time over the holidays, make a list of things you've wanted to do all year but didn't because you had too many other obligations. If you are in need of ideas, try the following:

  • Think of TV series you have wanted to catch up on, albums you wanted to listen to, places you've wanted to visit if they are going to be open.
  • Find a fun game you can play for whatever console you've got, or give yourself a new gaming console and set of games as a Christmas present!
  • Make time to practice an instrument or hobby you've put off for some time.
  • Write your novel, memoir, poetry, etc.
  • FaceTime or Skype video with friends and family. It's a way of being with them, even if you can't travel.
  • As you can decorate for just you, you can cook for just you too. If you aren't someone who likes a lot of leftovers, just be careful with the portions you make.

Where there is a will, there is a way. If you have it set in your mind that you are going to be miserable and you can't change that, then that is what is going to happen. However, if you are willing to wrap your mind around the idea of being happy or at least content, even if things aren't the way you want them to be, you will find this exercise much easier.

You're Not the Only One

You would not be reading this article right now if someone else had not spent a Thanksgiving and Christmas alone, too. How you spend the holiday is not a reflection of you or your worth, nor does it mean you have to spend every holiday alone. It's natural to have some negative thoughts and feelings about it, so don't beat yourself up. Thanksgiving and Christmas, for me, are about joy, so I will be spending them thinking of how I can cultivate more joy in my life, 365 days of the year.

© 2017 Holley Hyler

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