Maintaining relationships with those we love most isn’t always simple. It’s so easy to drift apart when you’re caught up with work and everyday stress. Before you know it, it feels like you’re left alone on an island and don’t know how to swim back to shore. And that’s a common feeling. It’s so common that three out of five of us feel left out sometimes, a longing that only intensifies feeling lonely during the holidays. Here, how to reconnect with others and yourself.
When You’re In a Crowd
Listen to signals.
We tend to judge ourselves if we feel lonely, even when we’re not alone. “But if you’re hungry, you know to eat—it’s no different with loneliness, which is your body telling you that you should connect,” says expert Kasley Killam. In fact, MIT researchers found that feeling isolated activates the same brain region as fasting; we need connection just like we need food. “Appreciate the wisdom inside you alerting you to your needs, and remind yourself that it’s okay to be lonely—we all experience it.”
This time often stirs feeling lonely during the holidays and longings for deeper attachments, says expert Hilary Jacobs Hendel. But this can set us up for disappointment. “Be honest with yourself,” she urges. “You might say, ‘I enjoy seeing Uncle Joe over the holidays, but he just doesn’t get me and we’re never going to be close.’” You’ll feel better when you let go of the Rockwell-like expectation to get along with everyone so you can focus more strategically on the ties that truly bring you joy.
Forge stronger bonds by letting down your guard. “You might tell your adult daughter, ‘It would mean so much if we could get together for coffee X times a month,’” says Jacobs Hendel. Or if you’re lonely with your partner: “It would mean so much if you asked me about X hobbies.” Regardless of how they respond, being open with your feelings thwarts loneliness by restoring your sense of self—the values that make you you.
When You’re On Your Own
Shift into joy.
When you’re feeling withdrawn, take comfort in what Jacobs Hendel calls a “state changer,” a brief act of self-care that shifts your focus. “Experiment with what works for you, be it going for a walk or taking a bath.” This way, when you learn what lifts your spirits, you’ll have a few “pre-planned” activities you can turn to when you’re lonely. Adds expert Shrein Bahrami, “Simply reading a biography of someone you admire can also take you out of yourself and make you feel less alone.”
Just say hello.
Even simple acts can enhance your “social health,” notes Killam. “A study found that people who talked on the phone for just 10 minutes several times a week experienced significantly less loneliness than people who didn’t ring up a friend,” she reveals. Another study showed that folks who often did small acts of kindness for their neighbors, even just saying “hello,” felt less lonely. “Set a small ‘connection goal,’ and build on it.”
Connect to yourself.
“When you’re feeling better, take a moment to write your ‘lonely self ’ a letter, reminding her that this too shall pass,” says Jacobs Hendel. “Then when you’re lonely in the future, read it—this helps you create a connection with yourself.” Indeed, reminding yourself of your resilience proves to you that loneliness is fleeting while your strength is enduring.
Feeling lonely during the holidays isn’t a healthy place to be, and it’s not impossible to get out of it. Be mindful and active about your feelings and you’ll see a change.
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